How The Bible Came To Us
Franklin Slayman

1. What the Bible is

The word bible comes from a Greek word which means books. The Bible contains the writings which are generally considered sacred among Christian people since these writings set forth the principles and background on which the Christian religion is based.

The Bible is divided into two parts called the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Bible used in the Protestant churches contains sixty-six books, thirty-nine of which are found in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New. The Bible of the Roman Catholic Church contains a number of books not found in the Protestant Bible.

These books are known collectively by Protestants as the Apocrypha and are not recognized by them as canonical. The books of the Old Testament form an excellent anthology of the literature of the ancient Hebrew nation. They contain the history, laws, poetry, drama, and religious teachings of that gifted people. They contain the dreams and ideals of a race. The New Testament contains the accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus and a history of the early Christian church as well as the teachings of the apostles, particularly St. Paul.

The Bible is without question the most important book in English and American literature. It has been read, either in whole or in part, by more people than any other book. It is more often quoted than any other book; and the material within its pages has provided more inspiration for poets, novelists, dramatists, and artists than any other source. It has also provided a constant source of inspiration and strength to millions of people in ordinary life.

II. Where It Came from and How

The books of the Old Testament were written originally in the Hebrew language. The earliest writings were produced by an unknown writer in the ninth or tenth century B.C. This man put into written form much of the traditional history and legend of the Hebrew people, which had been handed. down orally previous to that time.

Some time later a second writer living in the Northern Kingdom of Israel set down the traditions of the people as they were current among the tribes in which he lived. About the seventh century B.C. a third writer living in the Southern Kingdom of Judah combined the two accounts into one and added many parts of his own. To this collection of the traditions, history, and laws of the Hebrew people were later added from time to time the books of the prophets, psalms, and other books of poetry, philosophy, and history.

The period from 800 to 200 B.C. when the 'books of the Old Testament were being written was one of the great eras of progress for the human race. This was the period when Greek culture blossomed and flowered under the impetus of such great minds as those of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and the other great dramatists, poets, philosophers, and artists of the Golden Age of Greece. This was also the period of the great religious teachers of the East such as Confucius and Lao Tze in China, Buddha in India, and Zoroaster in Iran. This period, which also produced the great religious thinkers of the Hebrews such as Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Amos, gave us the Old Testament on which Christianity and much of our modern culture is based.

By the second century B.C. the books of the Old Testament had reached a form very much like their present form and were regarded by the Jewish people as sacred writings.

There was disagreement in the text between the various versions of the Bible which had appeared in English. Consequently, King James I called a conference of the church leaders and scholars in 1604 and commanded that a new translation should be made. The translation was to be done by the learned men of the church. In 1611 this edition of the Bible appeared. It was known as the authorized or King James Version and is still considered the standard English Bible although more accurate and more modern translations have appeared within the last few years. The scholars who produced the Authorized Version used much of the phraseology and language of William Tyndale's translations of almost a century earlier. Consequently the wording of the English Bible as we know it today owes more to William Tyndale that to any other or a man.

Near the end of the nineteenth century the leading Bible scholars of England and America combined their efforts and produced the revised version which never became very popular since the translators did not modernize the language sufficiently to satisfy very many people. Therefore, other translators went to work.

In 1923 a translation of the New Testament into modern English was published by Edgar J Goodspeed, an American scholar and expert in the Greek language. Later a group of Hebrew scholars under the direction of J.M. Powis Smith translated the Old Testament. These two books were published together in 1935 and became known and the Smith-Goodspeed translation of the Bible. A few years before Goodspeed published his New Testament, a British scholar by the name of James Moffat published a translation of the Old Testament into modern English. A little bit later a new translation of the Old Testament was added. However, neither translations ever came into very common use.

In 1946 there appeared in America a new translation of the New Testament into the present day English. This was produced by the best Greek scholars of America working under the sponsorship of the National Council of Churches. For the next six years a similar group of Hebrew scholars worked on the Old Testament and in September of 1952 the entire Bible was published in modern English. This transalation is known as the Revised Standard Version. Since this version of the Bible is sponsored by an organization which is made up of most of the Protestant churches in America, there is strong likelihood that this translation will come to be considered the standard English Bible so far as American Protestants are concerned.

At the same time the Dousi version was revised so that both Catholics and Protestants now have the Bible available in present day English. This revision of the Douai version, which was published in 1952, is know as the Confraternity Edition. More recently the Roman Catholic Churct has adopted for its use the New American Bible, a completely new translation based on Hebrew and Greek rather than the Latin Vulgate.

In 1947 the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, and various Free Churches of England organized a committee to arrange for a new translation of the Bible in the light of all the known facts concerning the linguistic and historical development of biblical literature. The principal aim was to reproduce clearly the meaning and general ef'fect of the biblical passages by means of modern, accurate, and dignified expression. The translation of the New Testament was published in 1961 jointly by the Cambridge University Press and the Oxford University Press, followed by the publication of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha in 1970. Favorable comment emphasized the simplicity and clarity of the translation; unfavorable comment deplored the loss or power and the lack of authoritative tone.

Arriving on the Bible scene in 1973 was The Common Bible, truly an ecumenical book since it has the approval of both the Roman Catholic Church and many major Protestant denominations. It is basically the Revised Standard Version with the differences between these two branches of Christianity ironed out. Of particular interest to the lay reader are the popular, easy-to-read versions, Good News for Modern Man, the New Testament of a translation called Today's English Version, and the Living Bible, a paraphrasing of King James.

By the third century B.C. many of the Jews who were scattered through the Mediterranean countries had discontinued the use of Hebrew, and it was necessary to translate the scriptures into Greek so that they could read them. This Greek translation of the O1d Testament is known as the Septuagint.

The New Testament was written in Greek. The letters of St. Paul were the earliest books of the New Testament. They were written to give advice and encouragement to the people of the churches which he had founded. Exactly when the teachings and sayings of Jesus were first put into written form is not known, but probably many or most of these words were written soon after his death. Later these early versions were probably embodied by the writers of the four Gospels in their accounts of the life of Jesus, which were written many years later.

By the fourth century A.D. the Bible, very much as we know it today, consisting of the books of both the Old and New Testaments, was recognized as constituting the sacred writings of Christian people. However, whole Bibles were very uncommon. One found copies of various individual books of the Bible here and there in different monasteries and churches. It was in the fourth century A.D. that the Pope commissioned the great scholar Jerome to make a complete translation of the entire Bible into Latin. Many translations of single books of the Bible into Latin had been made previously but often the text of one translation did not agree with that of another. Jerome, later canonized by the Church as St. Jerome, spent many years at his task and compared the various translations previously made in an effort to arrive at the correct wordings. His translation of the Old Testament was made from Hebrew texts, but he also made use of the Greek Septuapint (LXX). St. Jerome's translation of the Bible became known as the Vulgate because it was written in Latin which was the tongue of the common people of southern Europe at that time. This translation of the Bible is still the official Bible of the Roman Catholic church.

III The English Bible

The first complete translation of the Bible into English appeared about 1396. This translation was made from the Latin Vulgate and is commonly attributed to John Wycliffe. There is no doubt that other men besides Wycliffe worked on this translation and horn much if any of this work is that of Wycliffe himself cannot be determined. Certain it is that Wycliffe was the leader of a band of preachers in England who based their teachings on the Bible rather than on the authority of the Church.

In the early sixteenth century William Tyndale resolved to translate the New Testament and print it in English. He was driven out of England but took refuge in Germany where he completed his translation of the New Testament and had it printed in 1525. The copies were smuggled into England and sold surreptitiously. Later Tyndale translated parts of the Old Testament and published them. Tyndale translated directly from Hebrew and Greek and not from the Latin Vulgate as previous translations had been made. Tyndale did not live to complete his translation of the Old Testament. He was executed for heresy in 1536.

The first complete printed Bible in English was printed by Miles Coverdale in 1535. During the remainder of the sixteenth century several other editions of the Bible appeared in English. Notable among these is the Great Bible authorized by King Henry VIII which appeared in 1539. Also very important is the Douai version which was made from the Vulgate and which became the official Bible of the Catholic Church in English. Another famous edition is the translation known as the Geneva Bible. It was made by a group of English scholars who had been exiled and were living at Geneva. This appeared in 1560 and was the edition of the Bible which was brought to America by the Pilgrim fathers.


King James, or Authorized Version (KJV or AV) Revised Standard Version (RSV) Dartmouth Bible KJV (not complete) - with notes and commentary; easy-to-use reference; PHS Library

The Bible Reader: an Interfaith Interpretation - selections from most of the Bible from various translations (Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish cooperation) with notes; also easy to use and in PHS Library

The New English Bible (NEB) - prepared by Protestant scholars

The New American Bible and the Jerusalem Bible - both prepared by Catholic scholars (the Jerusalem by French) with copoius notes. All three of the above were produced by large committees of scholars, were translated from original Hebrew and Greek, use modern English with uniform spelling, and depend on up-to-date biblical scholarship.

The Living Bible - a paraphrasing of KJV in "American" by Kenneth Taylor; also called The Way, The Greatest in Love is the NT title. Good News for Modern Man - the NT of Today's English Version (TEV)

Douay-Rheims - Catholic translation of Vulgate into English; comparable to KJV in language except for some spellings of proper names.

Confraternity Edition - updating of Douay; comparable to TEV in language except for spellings

J.B. Phillips - an accurate translation of the NT into common English; published as a complete NT or in several sections.

The Interpreter's Bible (12 vol) - KJV and RSV side by side with copious commentary and notes; the notes are two types: one an objective literary or historical type, the other more of a religious interpretation.

The Anchor Bible (38 vol) - Each volume is translated, edited, and annotated by an outstanding Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish authority on the Bible.

The Hebrew Bible, which is the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, consists of the Law (Torah), the Prophets, and Writings. The books are the same but the organization of them is different.

OT Old Testament
NT New Testament
Note: Bible begins with a capital "B"; biblical may or may not be capitalized, according to the preference of the writer or publisher.

Franklin Slayman