What is the Bible?
What is the Bible? Where did it come from? Have you ever asked yourself these questions?
Today there are dozens of “versions” or “translations” of the Bible in English alone! Not including a translation in at least some small form in every language spoken on earth! I use the King James Version of the Bible which was translated in 1611 and is probably one of the most common and most quoted “translations” of the Bible in the world.
Lets step back in time for a moment and learn some of the history of the Bible; I personally am always blown away with the extensive history of the Bible! Someone could easily spend their entire life studying the Bible and still not know the entire history. Let’s start by examining the word “Bible”, what does that mean? Bible comes from the Latin word; Biblia, which means “books” or a collections of books. So the Bible literally means a collection of Books or if we were to see “Holy Bible” we could translate that to the “Holy Books”.
So we know that the Bible is a collection of Books, but where did these books come from? We know that the first five books of the Bible, known as the “Pentateuch” were authored by Moses of Israel, but he most likely took existing records, collected, edited, wove and abridged the books into a complete narrative. It is believed that some 700 years after Moses, Ezra, and the scribe returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity to start the demanding task of collecting, sorting and editing existing records and biblical texts to form one collection. The Old Testament that we know today probably reached its current form sometime around the late first century A.D.
The New Testament was formed in a similar manner, but often not how people have perceived. The books and the order they are placed in the Bible does not coincide with the date they were written. Before they were even written down, the stories and teachings of Jesus were first circulated as an oral history, with the earliest writings appearing sometime around 50 A.D. We know that the “Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were actually written much later than other parts of the New Testament, even though they appear first in the New Testament. The earliest known circulation of the “Gospels” appeared in Egypt no later than 125 A.D.
The earliest known collection, where the Old and New Testaments were together, is known as the “Codex Vaticanus” which is housed in the Vatican Library, and dates back to the 14th century.
From here the Bible follows a remarkable story filled with drama, inspiration and intrigue. The man that is credited with the first complete Bible in English is John Wycliffe (1328-1384), who was a theology professor at Oxford. He pioneered church reform in both doctrine and practice, and because of that him and his followers were greatly persecuted by corrupt church officials. Wycliffe saw that the current church was corrupt and far removed from the pattern of order and structure described in the Bible. Wycliffe set out to make the Bible available to all for their own interpretation, in their own tongues, instead of listening to corrupt church officials.
A century passed after the death of John Wycliffe and the birth of the man, who the world would recognize as the “Father of the English Bible” was William Tyndale (1492-1536). By the time Tyndale had begun his translation of the Bible, Martin Luther had already made a new translation of the Bible into German and Johann Gutenberg had perfected the moveable-type printing press, resulting in the famous 42-line Vulgate Bible. This Bible was a two-volume masterpiece that was printed in 1455.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is probably one of the most famous of the pioneers for the reformation of the Bible and the church, which at the time was corrupted. Luther insisted that the teachings of the church must be grounded in scripture. He produced his new translation, so that the common man could understand its concepts and principles, and so misunderstandings could be avoided.
Shortly before William Tyndale was persecuted to the point of being burned at the stake, he said; “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the scriptures than thou doest”. Tyndale’s work was not in vain, his work would later influence versions of the Bible, like the Geneva Bible of 1560, which was used by Shakespeare and brought over to America by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower.
In 1607, King James I of England appointed nearly 50 scholars, divided into six groups to research, organize, translate and bring to light a new translation of the Bible. The King James Version, which was published in 1611; “For without translation into the common tongue the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well… without a bucket or something to draw with”. Modern scholars have come to the conclusion, that almost 84% of the King James Bible was retained in the original texts of Tyndale’s work.
We must understand that as the world moves forward new versions or translations of the Bible are appearing every day. Reasons include; keeping up to pace with changes in language, facilitate ease of understanding and to go along with general understandings of words and doctrines of the modern world. But it must be understand that a “translation” is automatically a “interpretation”.
Because a translation is an “interpretation”, we must treat it as such! This does not mean that the Bible is not credible, it is very credible! I believe that the Bible is the word of God, but only when it is translated or interpreted as such! Meaning that we must read the Bible and understand its principles and doctrines with the spirit of God. We must read the scriptures with a prayer in our heart. We cannot simply read the Bible and take it for its literal “interpretation”, especially the interpretation of another.