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How We Got the Bible


Quick Reference Guide to the Bible's Development

This is just a brief overview of the Bible's development. It is broken down by significant events that took place in its history from Moses to our modern English versions. I hope that this break down helps as a reference.

Moses: 1500 B.C.

Starting around 1500 B.C. Moses pens the first five books of the Bible (also called the Torah or Pentateuch). Over the course of the next thousand years, God revealed additional information to His designated authors through inspiration and revelation. The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, was written about 450 B.C. and completed the compilation of the Tanakh.

Jewish Scribes: 300 B.C.

The Jewish scribes began translating the Hebrew text of the Tanakh into the Greek Septuagint (LXX). This version was used by Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church.

Jesus the Messiah: 4 B.C. - 32 A.D.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
The Word was born, established a brief Earthly ministry and completed His work on the cross for the benefit of all mankind. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; He did not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

The New Testament: 40 - 70 A.D.

The 27 books of the New Testament were composed. It was written and copied utilizing the common (Koine) Greek on papyrus scrolls but later had to be adapted into books of codex because of the efficiency of using both sides of the papyrus in an attempt to cut costs and meet popular demand. Our word "Bible" derives from the term byblos which means "the papyrus book." Three major Bible copying centers emerged in Byzantium, Alexandria and Western Africa. Byzantium and Alexandria will come to play a major role in the future development of our modern translations.

Jerome (The Latin Vulgate): 383 A.D.

In 382 AD, Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to make a revision of the old Latin translations of the various books of the Bible, the Vetus Latina. The vulgar, or common, language of the Romans was used so that everyone could read it. The Latin Vulgate would become the standard Bible in Western Europe for centuries and is still used by Roman Catholics today. However, the Roman Catholic Church of the day, gradually adopted the policy that access to the Bible should not be to the general public, only to their priests and monks or to a prominent scholar or royal patron.

John Wycliffe: 1384

John Wycliffe was one of the most eminent Oxford theologians of his day. He and his associates were the first to translate the entire Bible from Latin into English, Middle English to be precise. The hand copied Wycliffe Bibles were the inspiration and cause of the Lollard movement, a pre-Reformation movement that rejected many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bibles were declared heretical by the Catholic Church and when found were confiscated and destroyed.

Example from the Wycliffe's Bible - John 3:16

For God louded so the world, that he gaf his oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.

The Gutenburg Press: 1454

Johannes Gutenberg was a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer and publisher that introduced his invention of mechanical movable type printing around 1439 which started the Printing Revolution. This invention allowed for the mass production of printed books and was economically viable for printers and readers as well. This was a major step up from the hand-written manuscript. In 1452 Gutenberg began work on his Bible project and completed it in 1454 with the first publication run of 180 copies of the Latin Vulgate and it became known as the Gutenberg Bible.

Desiderius Erasmus: 1516

Erasmus was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher and theologian living during the era of the Reformation. In 1525 he published the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament, the Textus Receptus, using 5 or 6 Byzantium Greek manuscripts to critically examine and correct Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Some of the corrections significantly affected theology. The Textus Receptus was foundational for later publications of the Bible such as the original German Luther Bible, the New Testament translation by Tyndale, the King James Version and most other Reformation-era New Testament translations throughout Western and Central Europe.

Martin Luther: 1517

Martin Luther was a German monk, former Catholic priest, a professor of theology and started what is today called the Protestant Reformation, although not his intention. His intention was only to reform the existing Catholic Church. Luther was concerned about the apostate Pope Leo X and the lack of accountability in Church leadership as well as the Pope's spending habit and the willingness to sell salvation to raise money. Luther believed that the sole source of God's plan for salvation should come from the Scriptures and not from the Pope. He began to teach that justification is by faith and not by works through the gift of God's grace. To reiterate his position and attempt to begin a reformation within the Catholic Church, he nailed his "95 Theses" to the front door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517.

He also believed the common man should have access to God's Word. In 1522, Luther used Erasmus' Greek Textus Receptus to produce the first printed German New Testament. His translation of the Bible into the vernacular instead of Latin made it more accessible, making a significant impact on the church and on German culture. Later he would add the Old Testament to his Bible as well, translating from other Greek and Hebrew sources. By 1572 there were over 100,000 Luther Bibles published, which was strikingly revolutionary at that time.

William Tyndale: 1526

William Tyndale was an English scholar who became a leading figure during the Protestant Reformation. He was the first to translate and publish the New Testament into English and he did this while in exile in Germany. He later revised his New Testament and produced printed copies in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1534 and yet another revised edition was produced in 1536. Thanks to Tyndale, English was forever changed because he took the unpopular and awkward Middle English "vulgar" tongue, improved on it using Greek and Hebrew syntaxes and idioms and formed an Early Modern English. His translation of the New Testament utilized the 3rd edition of Earsmus' Textus Receptus, Erasmus' Latin New Testament, Luther's German version and the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale's Pentateuch was published at Antwerp by Merten de Keyser in 1530. His English version of Jonah was published the following year, followed by his revised version of Genesis in 1534. He translated additional Old Testament books but they were never published.

In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed for heresy. He was eventually executed in 1536 by strangulation and afterward his body was burned at the stake. After his execution, the Tyndale Bible, as it became known, continued to play a key role in the ideas of the Reformation across the English speaking world. More than eighty percent of his version of the Bible was incorporated into the Geneva Bible which was taken to the New World to Jamestown in 1607 and on the Mayflower in 1620. Also, the scholars who created the King James Version in 1611 drew significantly from Tyndale as well as other translations that descended from his.

Example from the Tyndale Bible - John 3:16

For God so loveth the worlde yt he hath geven his only sonne that none that beleve in him shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe.

Miles Coverdale: 1535

Miles Coverdale was a 16th century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English shortly after his close friend William Tyndale was imprisoned in 1535. He knew very little, if any, Greek and Hebrew but he was an excellent Latin and German scholar. His version of the Bible mainly relied on previously translated works by others, principally Tyndale's. The Second Edition of the Coverdale Bible was the first legally allowed to be printed and published on English soil by order of King Henry VIII.

King Henry VIII also had a Coverdale Bible put into every English church, chained to a bookstand, so that citizens would have access to a Bible. Coverdale also superintended and edited the Great Bible, which was the first authorized edition of the Bible in English. The Great Bible was authorized by King Henry VIII to be read aloud in the church services of the Church of England.

Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary): 1553

In 1553, the only surviving daughter of the marriage of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Mary I, took the throne of England. She attempted, through brutal means, to reestablish Roman Catholicism after the short-lived Protestant reign of her half-brother, Edward VI. Mary issued proclamations in August of 1553 forbidding public reading of the Bible and in June 1555 prohibited the works of the reformers. In 1558 a proclamation was issued requiring the delivery of the reformers' writings under penalty of death. Persecution was instituted against anyone who supported a reformed view or attempted to circulate the Scriptures in English. The standard penalty for those convicted of these crimes at the time was execution by being hanged, drawn and quartered and this legislation adopted the punishment of burning. Because of this brutality, her opponents labeled her "Bloody Mary." During her reign, she had over 280 Protestant religious reformers burned at the stake in the Marian Persecutions. Some of these accounts are recorded in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

John Rogers: 1560

The mass exodus of reformers from England to Geneva after the death of John Rogers set the stage for the introduction of the Geneva Bible. Tyndale had only translated the Old Testament from Genesis to 2nd Chronicles, the reformers that fled from England to Geneva completed the remainder of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew into English for the first time. This assembly of scholars produced the first English Bible completely translated directly from the original languages (The Geneva Bible).

For the very first time, a mechanically printed, mass-produced Bible was made directly available to the general public and it came with a variety of scriptural study guides and aids. It allowed for scripture cross-referencing with relevant verses in the rest of the Bible through the addition of numbered verses in the chapters. Each book also contained introductions which summarized all of the material that would be covered in that book. It included maps, tables, woodcut illustrations, indexes as well as many other features. The Geneva Bible is considered history's first study Bible. This was the Bible brought to America by the Pilgrims.

The Bishops' Bible: 1568

The Bishops' Bible was produced under the authority of the Church of England in 1568. The Calvinism injected into the commentary of the Geneva Bible did not sit well with the bishops of the Church of England. They associated Calvinism with Presbyterianism which wanted to replace bishops with a lay elder model of church government. The Great Bible of 1539 was authorized for use in Anglican worship but they realized it was severely deficient because much of the Old Testament and Apocrypha were translated from the Latin Vulgate, rather than the original languages. However, they still wanted to replace the Geneva translation so they circulated one of their own based on the Great Bible of 1539 and became known as the Bishops' Bible. Later, in 1572, they recirculated and extensively revised version.

King James I: 1604-1611

In 1604, England's King James I functioned as the head of the Church of England. The Anglican clergy convinced King James to allow for a new translation to be compiled using the best of the existing translations and the latest Greek and Hebrew texts. In January of 1604, James convened the Hampton Court Conference where a new English version was conceived. He gave instructions to a group of 47 scholars that this new version would conform to the ecclesiology and episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. This version of the English Bible is known as the Authorized Version, sometimes called the King James Version, of 1611.

Example from the 1611 King James Bible - John 3:16

For God so loued pe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.

The Authorized Version: 1769

Most of the Authorized Versions (or King James Bibles) that we have today come from the version produced in 1769, even if they are labeled the 1611 version of the Bible. Over the course of the 18th century, the Authorized Version became the standard version of Scripture.

By the mid-18th century however, there seemed to be a major scandal with the text brewing. The wide variation in the various modernized printed text, combined with the accumulation of misprints became very much an issue that caused the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to seek to produce and updated standardized text. Cambridge came out with their edition in 1760 and it was reprinted in 1762 and again in 1763 in John Baskerville's find folio edition. Six years after his Cambridge edition, Baskerville printed another edition of the King James and this became the standard to which all King James Bibles conform today.

Example from the 1769 King James Bible - John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Looks a little more familiar now doesn't it?

Westcott and Hort: 1853

Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort were Anglican churchmen who had a major contempt for the Textus Receptus, which had been the base for almost all of the Bibles up until this point in history. Hort described the Textus Receptus as "vile" and "villainous."

The Textus Receptus was based on the Byzantium Greek manuscripts, however, because of their disdain for the Textus Receptus, Westcott and Hort wanted to base their New Testament on the Alexandrian codices, the Vaticanus and the Siniaticus which were known to be corrupt. Alexandria at the time these documents were being written was a Gnostic haven of ideas. Subsequently these documents were affected by this corrupt line of thought. Both of these men were also influenced by Origen and others who denied the deity of Christ and embraced Gnostic heresies. There are over 3000 contradictions in the four gospels alone between different manuscripts coming from this area. In 1853, they began their work on a Greek New Testament and finished it 28 years later, incorporating all of their heretical ideas and utilizing these corrupt texts. Published in 1881, their work is called The New Testament in the Original Greek.

Westcott admits in his own words:

How certainly I should have been proclaimed a heretic. - B. F. Westcott, Life of Westcott, Vol 1, p.233

Revised Versions: 1880-1971

English Revised Version (1880, 1895): The first and remains the only officially authorized and recognized revision of the King James Bible. It was entrusted to 50 scholars from various denominations in Britain, two of the best known on the translation committee were Westcott and Hort. The ERV was the first English Bible translation to exclude the Apocrypha with its 1895 release. Up until this version, every Bible included 80 books (the Apocrypha), not 66.

American Standard Version (1901): The root of the ASV was the ERV. It changed the English spellings of words to an American spelling. It never achieved wide popularity and the King James Version remained the primary translation for most in American Protestant Churches.

Revised Standard Version (1946): The RSV is a revised edition of the ASV. It was intended to be a readable and literally accurate modern English translation. The New Testament was published in 1946, the Old Testament followed in 1952 and the Apocrypha was added in 1957. It was riddled with liberal theology, one of the most glaring errors in this version is the denial of the Virgin Birth of Jesus.

New American Standard (1963, 1971): The New Testament for the NAS was published in 1963. The complete NAS Bible was not published until 1971. It is regarded as the translation that is most literal of all the 20th century English Bible translations. It is a revision of the 1901 ASV and is an alternative to the RSV. The translators wanted to produce a contemporary English Bible but also maintain a word-for-word translation style. It was updated in 1995 and that revision is now produced as the current NASB.

Modern Versions: 1973 - Present

New International Version (1973, 2011): The NIV is one of the most popular translations (or paraphrases) of the Bible today. I call it a paraphrase really because it is not a word-for-word translation. The NIV was meant to be a phrase or thought-to-thought translation. You have to ask yourself though - who is doing the interpretation of the thought? The core translation group consisted of fifteen Biblical scholars. It took ten years and involved a team of up to 100 scholars from multiple denominations that do not agree on some doctrinal aspects of Scripture. Add to that the fact that the text was based on multiple manuscripts that do not agree with one another. As a result, it is necessary for someone to pick and choose based on their idea of what needs to be in there and what needs to be left out. This is obviously a very bad idea. For example, Mark 16:9-20 is completely left out of the NIV as well as other words here and there that completely change the original intent of some passages. In 2011, the NIV was revised to a more gender neutral translation (NIrV). In many cases the Greek is corrupted in order to maintain the sense of gender neutrality. It was completely rejected by the Southern Baptist Convention because of this issue.

New King James (1982): The complete NKJV was published in 1982 and was originally known as the Revised Authorized Version. The aim of this translation was to update the King James to a more modern English while preserving the classic style. The 130 translators believed in staying faithful to the original Greek, Aramiac and Hebrew texts which included the Dead Sea Scrolls. They also added event descriptions, a history of each book, a dictionary and updated concordance for useful study.

English Standard Version (2002): The ESV is a revision of the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version. Only about 6% was revised from the RSV. The translation philosophy was to follow an "essentially literal" translation, taking into account differences in grammar, syntax and idiom between current English and the original language. Remember the liberal theological issues with the RSV? There were a few changes made to this version to bring it back to the a more conservative translated view - for example "young woman" was changed back to "virgin" in this version to reverse the view of the Virgin Birth.

It is seen by some as the Bible of the future but at the 2008 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Mark L. Strauss presented a paper criticizing the ESV for dated language and stated it is unsuited for mainstream use. Scholars have also complained of gender neutrality issues in some spots with this version.

Final Word...

Should we trust what we read? Is everything that calls itself a Bible and actual literal translation of the Bible that God inspired? You need to take this into consideration... The Word of God is inspired and many have died to bring the Word of God to the people in order to spread the Good News of Christ death, burial and resurrection - they believed in it as should you. BUT there is an active adversary that works against you and will circumvent your study with stuff that is not truly a Bible.

Be careful which "Bible" you are reading and make sure that you can easily go back to the original intent of the passages using a concordance. Study the Word of God with a passion and understand where you got the Bible you hold in your hands. How was it translated, who did the translating, what documents were used in its translation should be questions answered before you study.