History of the English Bible Part 1

Bible StudyI’m going to be teaching on the history of the English bible and its translation next month. I thought to help me get my ideas in a coherent and understandable way I would write them down and share them here. I feel very strongly about the issue of bible translation because I have seen someone try and split a church over it and I’ve seen people walk away from the church over it. I read from several translations. I pick one and read it cover to cover then I get another and do the same with it. In the last few years I’ve read the KJV, TNIV, NIV, HCSB, NKJV cover to cover plus the New Testament in the ESV. In January I plan on starting the NASB with a NRSV waiting after that. During the week I read an hour a day from whatever translation I am reading through. Later in the day I normally pick up what ever translation I have stashed in the place I am near. I also want to state I like the KJV, the Lord’s Prayer in anything else just doesn’t have the ring in my ears as the KJV, but I do not feel that it is the best version for the typical reader of the bible today. So it is important to understand why it sometimes is not the same as a modern translation. This is a very simple overview as the majority of the people I will be teaching will want nothing but basics, so that is what I intend to give here.

The OT was originally written in Hebrew with parts such as Ezra 4:7-6:18;7:12-26, Daniel 2:4-7:28 and Jeremiah 10:11 written in Aramaic. The NT was written in Greek other than the Aramaic words in Mark 5:41 and Mark 7:34. Most of the manuscripts we have today are written on Papyrus or Parchment. There are about 3,000 Hebrew OT manuscripts in part or whole and 5,400 NT manuscripts in part or whole. There are 1,500 Septuagint manuscripts, 8,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts, and over a thousand ancient manuscripts in other languages
Most of the manuscripts we have today are either papyrus or parchment. Papyrus is a plant that grows in the marshes. The thin leaves are woven together in a crosshatch Papyrus_plantpattern and allowed to dry. The sugars that occur in the drying process act as glue and allow the leaves to form a solid sheet. Parchment is made from animal skins. Both of these materials were rolled into scrolls and that was the early form of books. Being rolled into a scroll limited the size that a book could be, for example the Isaiah scroll found at Qumran is pushing the limit at 23 feet. It was eventually discovered that papyrus could be folded in half and a book could be made these were called codex or codices for plural.

The next thing we must realize is that this happened before the printing press so if you had a copy of the bible, it had been hand copied from another hand copy. This coping was often done in a scriptorium. This KircheScriptoriumwas a room where professional scribes would hand copy books of the bible. Sometimes one person would stand and read the text while the other scribes would be writing what would be said. Imagine scriptoriumsitting in a room for hours on end writing every word that was said. That is how we got the manuscripts that we have. Next Time I will discuss the Septuagint.

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