History of the Bible

Dead Sea Scrolls (21 BC – 60 AD)

illuminatedAccording to carbon dating, textual analysis, and handwriting analysis the documents were written at various times between the middle of the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. At least one document has a carbon date range of 21 BC–61 AD. The Nash Papyrus from Egypt, containing a copy of the Ten Commandments, is the only other Hebrew document of comparable antiquity. Similar written materials have been recovered from nearby sites, including the fortress of Masada. While some of the scrolls were written on papyrus, a good portion were written on a brownish animal hide that appears to be gevil. The scrolls were written with feathers from a bird and the ink used was made from carbon black and white pigments. One scroll, appropriately named the Copper Scroll, consisted of thin copper sheets that were incised with text and then joined together.

Important texts include the Isaiah Scroll (discovered in 1947), a Commentary on the Habakkuk (1947), the so-called Manual of Discipline (= Community Rule) (1QS/4QSa-j), which gives much information on the structure and theology of a sect, and the earliest version of the Damascus Document. The so-called Copper Scroll (1952), which lists valuable hidden caches of gold, scrolls, and weapons, is probably the most notorious.

The fragments span at least 801 texts that represent many diverse viewpoints, ranging from beliefs resembling those of the Essenes to those of other sects. About 30% are fragments from the Hebrew Bible, from all the books except the Book of Esther and the Book of Nehemiah (Abegg et al 2002). About 25% are traditional Israelite religious texts that are not in the canonical Hebrew Bible, such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Testament of Levi. Another 30% contain Biblical commentaries or other texts such as the Community Rule (1QS/4QSa-j, also known as “Discipline Scroll” or “Manual of Discipline”), the The Rule of the Congregation, The Rule of the Blessing and the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (1QM, also known as the “War Scroll”) related to the beliefs, regulations, and membership requirements of a Jewish sect, which some researchers continue to believe lived in the Qumran area. The rest of the fragments (about 15%) remain unidentified.

The scrolls were found in 11 caves near a settlement at Qumran on the Dead Sea. None of them were found at the actual settlement. It is generally accepted that a Bedouin goat- or sheep-herder by the name of Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed (nicknamed edh-Dhib, “the wolf”) made the first discovery toward the beginning of 1947.

In the most commonly told story the shepherd threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to drive out a missing animal under his care. The shattering sound of pottery drew him into the cave, where he found several ancient jars containing scrolls wrapped in linen.

John Wycliffe Bible (1380’s)

John Wycliffe organized the first complete translation of the Bible into Middle English in the 1380s. The translation was a collaborative effort, and it is not clear which portions are actually Wycliffe’s work. Church authorities officially condemned the translators of the Bible into vernacular languages because they had done so without the sanction of the Church. As such, the Church officially labeled such men heretics and Lollards. Despite their prohibition by the Church, revised versions of Wycliffite Bibles remained in use for about 100 years.

Gutenberg Bible (1452-1453)

The Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible or the Mazarin Bible) is a printed version of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible that was printed by Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany in the fifteenth century. Although it is not, as often thought, the first book to be printed by Gutenberg’s new movable type system, it is his major work, and has iconic status as the start of the “Gutenberg Revolution” and the “Age of the Printed Book”.

The printed bible is a possible imitation of a Mainz illuminated manuscript, the so called Giant Bible of Mainz (Biblia latina), whose 1300 pages were written between 1452-1453.

The print run started on February 23, 1455, using a printing press and movable type. This Bible is the most famous incunabulum and its production marked the beginning of the mass production of books in the West. It was printed in the type styles that would become known as Textura and Schwabacher. A complete copy comprises 1282 pages, and most bibles were bound in at least two volumes.

It is believed that about 180 copies of the Bible were produced, 45 on vellum and 135 on paper, a number which marks a sharp contrast with the prior technology for societies which, from time immemorial, had to produce copies of written works laboriously by hand. Gutenberg produced these Bibles (which were printed, then rubricated and illuminated by hand, the work of specialized craftsmen), over a period of a year, the time it would have taken to produce one copy in a Scriptorium. Because of the hand illumination, each copy is unique.

As of 2003, the number of known extant Gutenberg 42-line Bibles includes eleven complete copies on vellum, one copy of the New Testament only on vellum, and 48 substantially complete integral copies on paper, with another divided copy on paper. The country with the most copies is Germany, which has twelve. Four cities have two copies: Paris, Moscow, Mainz and Vatican City; London has three copies plus the illuminated Bagford Fragment; New York has four copies.

Tyndale’s Bible (1523)

William Tyndale was the first figure in this period. Tyndale was a priest who graduated at Oxford, was a student in Cambridge when Martin Luther posted his theses at Wittenberg and was troubled by the problems within the Church. In 1523, taking advantage of the new invention of the printing machine Tyndale began to cast the Scriptures into the current English.

However, Tyndale did not have copies of “original” Hebrew texts. In fact the quality of the Hebrew documents was poor, since no original Hebrew sources earlier than the 10th Century had survived. He set out to London fully expecting to find support and encouragement there, but he found neither. He found, as he once said, that there was no room in the palace of the Bishop of London to translate the New Testament; indeed, that there was no place to do it in all England. A wealthy London merchant subsidized him with the munificent gift of ten pounds, with which he went across the Channel to Hamburg; and there and elsewhere on the Continent, where he could be hid, he brought his translation to completion. Printing facilities were greater on the Continent than in England; but there was such opposition to his work that very few copies of the several editions of which we know can still be found. Tyndale was compelled to flee at one time with a few printed sheets and complete his work on another press. Several times copies of his books were solemnly burned, and his own life was frequently in danger.

The Church had objected to Tyndale’s translations because in their belief purposeful mistranslations had been introduced to the works in order to promote anticlericalism and heretical views (the same argument they used against Wycliff’s translation). Thomas More accused Tyndale of evil purpose in corrupting and changing the words and sense of Scripture. Specifically, he charged Tyndale with mischief in changing three key words throughout the whole of his Testament, such that “priest”, “church”, and “charity” of customary Roman Catholic usage became in Tyndale’s translation “elder”, “congregation” and “love”. The Church also objected to Wycliffe and Tyndale’s translations because they included notes and commentaries promoting antagonism to the Catholic Church and heretical doctrines, particularly, in Tyndale’s case, Lutheranism.

There is one story which tells how money came to free Tyndale from heavy debt and prepare the way for more Bibles. The Bishop of London, Tunstall, was set on destroying copies of the English New Testament. He therefore made a bargain with a merchant of Antwerp, to secure them for him. The merchant was a friend of Tyndale, and went to him to tell him he had a customer for his Bibles, The Bishop of London. Tyndale agreed to give the merchant the Bibles to pay his debt and finance new editions of the Bible.

The original Tyndale Bible was published in Cologne in 1526. The final revision of the Tyndale translation was published in 1534. He was arrested in 1535 at Brussels, and the next year was condemned to death on charges of teaching Lutheranism. He was tied to a stake, strangled, and his body was burned. However, Tyndale may be considered the father of the King James Version (KJV) since much of his work was transferred to the KJV. The revisers of 1881 declared that while the KJV was the work of many hands, the foundation of it was laid by Tyndale, and that the versions that followed it were substantially reproductions of Tyndale’s, or revisions of versions which were themselves almost entirely based on it.

Matthew’s Bible (1537)

Matthew’s Bible was produced by John Rogers, working under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew for safety, in 1537. It was based on Tyndale’s previously published version with the addition of the text Tyndale produced in prison. The remainder used Coverdale’s translation. This version received the approval of Henry VIII who had previously banned Tyndale’s work. The Great Bible version which appeared first in 1539 became the authorized version in Britain.

The Great Bible: The First “Authorized Version” (1539)

There appeared what is known as the Great Bible in 1539. It was made by Myles Coverdale, and much influenced by Tyndale. Coverdale took Tyndale’s New Testament and the portions of the Old Testament available before he was jailed and produced the Great Bible in 1535. He probably translated the remainder of the Old Testament himself from Latin and German versions. The Great Bible was issued to meet a decree that each church should make available in some convenient place the largest possible copy of the whole Bible, where all the parishioners could have access to it and read it at their will.

The version gets its name solely from the size of the volume. That decree dates 1538, twelve years after Tyndale’s books were burned, and two years after he was burned. The installation of these great books caused tremendous excitement as crowds gathered everywhere. Bishop Bonner had six copies of the great volume located throughout St. Paul’s. He found it difficult to make people leave them during the sermons. He was so often interrupted by voices reading to a group, and by the discussions that ensued, that he threatened to have them taken out during the service if people would not be quiet. The Great Bible appeared in seven editions in two years, and continued in recognized power for thirty years. Much of the present English prayer-book is taken from it.

But this liberty was so sudden that the people naturally abused it. King Henry VIII became vexed because the sacred words “were disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every ale-house”. There had grown up a series of wild ballads and ribald songs in contempt of “the old faith”, while it was not really the old faith which was in dispute, but only foreign control of English faith. They had mistaken Henry’s meaning. So Henry began to put restrictions on the use of the Bible. There were to be no notes or annotations in any versions, and those that existed were to be blacked out. Only the upper classes were to be allowed to possess a Bible. Finally, the year before his death, all versions were prohibited except the Great Bible, whose cost and size precluded secret use. The decree led to another great burning of Bibles in 1546 — Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew — all but the Great Bible. The leading religious reformers took flight and fled to European Protestant towns like Frankfurt and Strassburg.

Under Edward VI, the regency cast off all restrictions on translation and publication of the Bible. The order for a Great Bible in every church was renewed, and there was to be added to it a copy of Erasmus’s paraphrase of the four gospels. Nearly fifty editions of the Bible, in whole or in part, appeared in those six years.

Taverner’s Bible (1539)

Taverner’s Bible is a minor revision of Matthew’s Bible edited by Richard Taverner and published in 1539.

The Geneva Bible (1560)

Then came Queen Mary who again gave in the nominal allegiance of England to the Roman control. But she missed the spirit of the people, who she thought were weary with the excesses of rabid Protestantism; but they were by no means ready to admit the principle of foreign control in religious matters. So the secret use of protestant translations of the Bible continued, despite official efforts to restore England to Catholic unity.

English Protestant scholarship was driven into exile, and found its way to Frankfurt and Geneva again. There the spirit of scholarship was untrammeled; there they found material for scholarly study of the Bible, and there they made and published a new version of the Bible in English, by all means the best that had been made. In later years, under Elizabeth, it drove the Great Bible off the field by sheer power of excellence. During her reign sixty editions of it appeared.

This was the version called the Geneva Bible. It made several changes: for one, in the Genevan edition of 1560 first appeared the familiar division into verses. The chapter division was made three centuries earlier, but the verses belong to the Genevan version, and are meant to make the book suitable for responsive use and for readier reference. They were taken in large part from the work of Robert Stephens, who had divided the Greek Testament into verses ten years earlier, during a journey which he was compelled to make between Paris and Lyon.

The Genevan version was printed in both Roman type, with which we are all familiar, and in the older type face, black letter. It had full notes on hard passages, some of which eventually proved controversial to King James, and were thus a prompt to a new translation: the King James version. The work itself was completed after the accession of Elizabeth, when most of the religious leaders had returned to England from their exile under Mary.

The Geneva Bible was produced in 1560 by William Whittingham who had succeeded John Knox as pastor of the English congregation at Geneva, Switzerland. Whittingham was married to John Calvin’s sister and the translation was viewed as too Calvinist by the British authorities.

Elizabeth I

At the time of Elizabeth I of England it was found that two versions of the Bible were in common use, the old Great Bible and the new Geneva Bible. Yet there could be no hope of gaining the approval of Elizabeth for the Geneva Bible. For one thing, John Knox had been a party to its preparation; so had Calvin. Elizabeth detested them both, especially Knox. For another thing, its notes were not favorable to royal sovereignty, but smacked so much of popular government as to be offensive. For another thing, it had been made in a foreign land, and was under suspicion on that account.

The Bishops’ Bible (1568 – 1572)

The result was that Elizabeth’s archbishop, Parker, set out to have an authorized version made, selected a revision committee, with instructions to follow wherever possible the Great Bible, to avoid bitter notes, and to make such a version that it might be freely, easily, and naturally read. The result is known as the Bishops’ Bible. It was issued in Elizabeth’s tenth year (1568), but there is no record that she ever noticed it, though Parker sent her a copy from his sick-bed. The Bishops’ Bible shows influence of the Geneva Bible in many ways, though it gives no credit for that. Only its official standing gave it life, and after forty years, in nineteen editions, it was no longer published.

The Bishops’ Bible was an Anglican revision of the Great Bible produced by nine bishops in a response to the rising popularity of the Geneva Bible. It was produced in 1568 and revised in 1572.

The Douai-Rheims Version (1582 – 1609)

The Douai version was the work of English Catholic scholars connected with the University of Douai in France. The New Testament was issued at Rheims in 1582, and the Old Testament in 1609, just before the King James version. It is made, not from the Hebrew and the Greek, though it refers to both, but from the Vulgate. The result is that the Old Testament of the Douai version is a translation into English from the Latin, which in large part is a translation into Latin from the Greek Septuagint, which in turn is a translation into Greek from the Hebrew. Yet scholars are scholars, and it shows some influence of the Genevan version, and, indeed, of other English versions. Its notes were strongly anti-Protestant, and in its preface it explains its existence by saying that Protestants have been guilty of “casting the holy to dogs and pearls to hogs.”

The version is not in the direct line of the ascent of the familiar version—its English was not colloquial, but ecclesiastical. In Hebrews 13:17, the version reads, “Obey your prelates and be subject unto them.” In Luke 3:3, John came “preaching the baptism of penance.” In Psalm xxiii:5, where the King James Version reads, “My cup runneth over,” the Douai version reads, “My chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly it is.” There is a retention of ecclesiastical terms, and an explanation of the passages on which Protestants had come to differ rather sharply from Catholics, as in the matter of the taking of the cup by the people, and elsewhere.

The Douai translation was updated in 1750 by Bishop Challoner and while it continued to be known as the Douai version, many consider it to be equivalent to a separate translation. In various updates, this version remained the standard Catholic English-language Bible until 1941.

King James Bible (1611)

Main article: King James Version of the Bible
The King James Version (KJV) is an English translation of the Holy Bible, commissioned for the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of James I of England. First published in 1611, it has had a profound impact not only on most English translations that have followed it, but also on English literature as a whole.

The King James Version was published in 1611. Translated by the largest group of translators, around 50, and using the widest range of source texts, it became the “Authorized Version” in Britain and the most widely used of the Early Modern English Bible translations. Its use has continued in some traditions up to the present. Even though modern scholarship continues to claim problems with some of the translation, it is widely admired for its style and use of language.

A sample of the King James shows the similarity to modern English:
Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.