What is found below are my class notes from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The class was, “History of the Bible” and taught by Dr. Carlton Winbury. Since this is a transcription from class notes… and not intended for publication… the reader is asked for patience and understanding.
History of the Bible (Dr. Carlton Winbury, NOBTS, 1988)
Introduction: The word bible is the Greek word for book (biblios). In our context it refers to a series of books contained in one volume. There are 66 books in our Bible of which 39 are in the Old Testament and 27 are in the New Testament.
The Nature Of The Bible
- Divine Origin (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- Human Communication
The Inspiration Of The Bible (3 Views)
Dynamic: God chooses people involved, but allowed them to express their thoughts the best way that they could. The human factor is great in this area.
Dictation: Mechanically transmitted like a typewriter.
Plenary Verbal: All inspired using man’s agency but preserving God’s message.
Scripture References: 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21.
Types Of Literature In The Bible
History (Genesis; Acts)
Prophesy (Daniel; Revelation)
Divisions Of The Bible
The Old Testament:
Torah: “The Law.” 1st five books.
Former Prophets: Mainly history. Joshua through Kings.
Latter Prophets: Uses history as basis for future. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel (Considered the Major Prophets due to size). The Twelve (all the rest of the O.T. books except for Wisdom literature) are considered Minor Prophets (Again, due to size).
Wisdom Literature: Job (Probably the oldest book in the Bible), Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes.
The New Testament:
The Synoptic Gospels: (Same Eye) Matthew, Mark, Luke.
History: Acts (Similar to the Torah)
Letters: The letters of Paul, Peter.
Apocalyptic: Jude and Revelation.
The Transmission Of The Bible
Most Scripture was first transmitted orally. Hebrews were specially adept at preserving the oral traditions.
Moses recorded/wrote most of the Pentateuch, Genesis-Deuteronomy (See Dt 34:5-12). Afterward a special group of men called scribes were given the task of rewriting the manuscripts for them to be given to succeeding generations.
Note: It is very difficult to find exceedingly old copies of the Old Testament since Hebrew/Jewish Scribes tended to destroy the manuscripts when they became worn. Thus the tremendous nature of the Dead Sea Scrolls when they were found.
Old Testament: Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient Old Testament manuscripts, the earliest manuscript in existence was from around the year A.D. 900. This makes a time gap of 1300 years since it was completed in 400 BC which could be seen as opportunity for errors to creep into the text. However upon further examination it is found that the Old Testament is just as reliable as the New Testament. For example when the text of Isaiah was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls the following statement was made by Gleason Archer who compared the previous earliest text with the one which dated 1,000 years earlier:
“Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscripts previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. Even those Dead Sea fragments of Deuteronomy and Samuel which point to a different manuscript family from that which underlies our received Hebrew text do not indicate any differences in doctrine or teaching. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest.“
Samuel Davidson describes some of the steps which were followed in the copying of the Hebrew text by early Jews (A.D. 100-500) which is representative of the care with which the Scribes exacted in copying the text (numbering used is from Geisler and Nix):
A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals,
Prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a Jew,
These must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals,
Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex,
The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines; and the breadth must consist of thirty letters,
The whole copy must be first lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless,
The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other color, and be prepared according to a definite recipe,
An authentic copy must be exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least deviate,
No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him…,
Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene,
Between every new parashah, or section, the breadth of nine consonants;
Between every book, three lines,
The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so,
Besides this, the copyist must be in full Jewish dress…
Wash his whole body…
Not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink,
And should a king address him while writing that name, he must take no notice of him.
With these being the steps by which every scribe followed, is it any wonder that the Old Testament text is essentially unchanged even over the space of 1,000 years? Yes, the text of the Old Testament is completely reliable.
New Testament: From the time of the original writing to the earliest complete and reliable manuscript for the New Testament, there is a time span of approximately 250 years. This may seem like a long time until it is compared with other ancient writings which are widely accepted. The following table compares other accepted ancient works with the New Testament to show how the New Testament has greater documented proof than any other ancient writing.
Caesar. Written 100-44 BC. Earliest Copy AD 900. Time span: 1,000 years. Number of copies: 10.
Plato, Tetraologies. Written 427-347 BC. Earliest copy 900 AD. Number of copies: 7.
Tacitus. Written 100 AD. Earliest copy 1,100 AD. Time span: 1,000 years. Number of copies: Less than 20.
Pliney: History. Written 61-113 AD. Earliest copy 850 AD. Time span: 750 years. Number of copies 7.
Aristotle. Written 384-322 BC. Earliest copy 1100 AD. Time span: 1,400 years. Number of copies 49.
Homer (Iliad). Written 900 BC. Earliest copy 400 BC. Time span: 500 years. Number of copies 643.
The New Testament (Various authors): Written 40-100 AD. Earliest copy 125 AD. Time span 25 years. Number of copies 24,000+ (Including portions of NT texts).
So it is easy to see that the New Testament is the most reliable ancient document in the world today, even when compared to other works which are not disputed. We have a Bible which is imminently reliable. Sir Fredrick Kenyon has stated:
“The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”
The Gospels were written to preserve the life and ministry of Jesus. This was done once the Apostles and those who were alive at the time of Jesus began to die off. They saw the need to accurately preserve a written record of his life’s events.
Some books were letters written to specific people (Timothy, Philemon) or to specific churches (Galatians-Colossians) or to address specific situations (Luke/Acts).
Note: The order of the Gospels we have today is not what was originally intended by the early church. Matthew, Mark, & John were seen as separate but similar books. Luke and Acts were written to be one continuous work. Both Luke and Acts are approximately the same in length and are written by the same author (A physician). When they were first circulated, Luke was written on one side of the scroll and Acts on the other side. In this way a person could read about the life of Jesus first and then continue reading about the ministry that took place after his resurrection.
When the New Testament was copied it was done primarily in what was called a “Scriptorium.” One person would read from an approved and accepted manuscript and many scribes would copy what was being read. Early manuscripts would cost a tremendous amount of money. A scroll the size of Luke would cost about 6 months worth of wages if you desired to purchase it.
The Languages Of The Bible
Hebrew (Vastly predominant in the Old Testament)
Aramaic (Portions of Daniel)
Greek (Entire New Testament)
Note: Style of writing can help determine audience and writer. The grammatical style and language of 1 Peter is dramatically different from the book of Hebrews. 1 Peter is a rough style of writing while Hebrews is exceedingly well written. Idea is similar to a paper written by someone in grammar school versus someone writing a doctoral dissertation.
The Mechanics Of Transmission (2 Timothy 4:16 “Bring… books & parchments”)
Two things written upon:
Made from skins of doe gazelle. Very thin, soaked in water, dried, stretched, then a powder applied.
Papyrus. From the core of the plant, sliced as thin as possible about 10” long. Then laid ||| and = and covered with a type of glue. Placed between two rocks to dry. One sheet was called a “cartes” (xarths). They were then placed end to end and made a scroll about 30 feet in length. (On one side of scroll was the Gospel of Luke, then it was turned over and the Acts of the Apostles written on other side).
Pen: Wrote using a “calamous” pen from a reed or feather. Dipped in ink to write. Usually held enough “ink” to write three letters.
Ink: Three methods of making ink.
Made from nut-gall. Take any nut and boil it until it becomes black (most of the time they used a green nut for this practice). This was the most widely used.
Mixed the soot from a burning oil lamp. This tended to dry and break off.
Mixed ash with oil to make a thick paste.
Clay: Write on soft clay & then bake it. This method was used primarily in Asia and Turkey.
Formation Of The Cannon
Q: How were books chosen to be included in the Bible, who made those decisions, and on what did they base their decision? Why does the Protestant Bible not contain the books of the Apocrypha? A: “Canon” originally meant “a reed or standard of measure.” The term eventually came to refer to the group of books generally accepted by the church as inspired by God.
Throughout the years from AD 200 to AD 400 (When the NT Canon was completed) many books were disputed and argued over. What follows on the next page is the flow of which books eventually were accepted into what we today call the Bible.
Factors That Retarded The Growth Of The NT Canon:
OT was seen as Scripture, but the NT was not. When “Scripture” was referred to in early writings it was the OT. Compare 2 Peter 3:15-16.
Presence of Apostles and eyewitnesses. Why write it down when you could talk to someone who was there?
The oral tradition. Many preferred oral stories since they could not read.
Necessity of Apostolic Witnesses. Truth must be proven to have come from Jesus’ teaching. There must be an Apostolic witness.
The Church needed time to reflect upon these new writings in order to consider them as Scripture.
The nature of Apostolic Writings: The Gospels were easily accepted. However, Paul wrote occasional letters and there was a question if they were of any lasting value.
Presence of the Holy Spirit. Q: “Do people who believe in the Holy Spirit needed a canon?
Eschatology. The believed in the soon return of Jesus Christ. If he will return soon, why write anything down?
Stimuli For The Formulation Of The NT Canon:
Inadequacy of the OT. It didn’t meet the Christian needs. OT, did not contain explicit references to Jesus. Jesus claimed a greater authority than OT, thus need to preserve his teachings.
Demise of eyewitnesses and loss of oral tradition.
Rise of heresy:
Gnostics: Man is body, soul, & spirit. Body & soul are earthly and therefore sinful. The spirit is asleep and needs to be awakened by knowledge (gnosis in Greek means “knowledge”). The “knowledge” they refer to is secret and not open to everyone, but only the enlightened (The result of their view was to view themselves as superior to other believers since they had “the knowledge.” Thus Paul constantly used the body metaphor.) Since the body and spirit are separate, it does not matter what is done in the body (Rom 6:1 ff).
Marcianism: Rejected OT & limited Scriptures. Luke & 10 of Paul’s letters (No pastoral letters).
Montanism: Similar to the extremist charismatic movement. They gave credence to most any document.
Presence of “Biblical Type” books. Many were pseudo books w/ Apostolic names. Some of these books were allowed for personal devotion but not for public reading in the church. Some of these are now contained in the Apocrypha of the RCC.
Development of codex. Binding of paper into books as today.
Persecution. Books were burned. Q: Which books are you willing to die for?
Official Publication. Recognition of religion by Roman Empire (325 AD).
AD 200 AD 250 AD 325 AD 400
Irenaus, Clement Origen Eusebius The Councils
Four Gospels Four Gospels Four Gospels Four Gospels
Acts Acts Acts Acts
Paul’s Letters Paul’s Letters Paul’s Letters Paul’s Letters
1 John 1 John 1 John Hebrews
2 John 1 Peter 1 Peter James
Jude Revelation Revelation 1 & 2 Peter
Revelation 1-3 John Hebrews
DISPUTED 2 & 3 John Revelation
Shepherd of Hermas 2 & 3 John James “These and no more”
Wisdom of Solomon James Jude
Preaching of Peter Jude 2 Peter
Revelation of Peter 2 Peter (1st mention)
ACCEPTED BY SOME
Barnabas , Shepherd of Hermas, Barnabas, Didache, 1 Clement, Gospel of Hebrews,
Revelation of Peter, Acts of Paul, & Revelation
What was the purpose of “The Counsels” that determined the Canon?
Old Testament: Its cannon was probably established long before the time of Christ, but there has been much scholarly debate over this issue. We do know that The Talmudic treatise Baba Bathra (ca. AD 200) contains a list of books that is virtually the same as the OT books we have today. By the time of Jesus it was most probably virtually complete. The Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that the Qumran community had commentaries on most all OT books thus validating this assertion.
New Testament: From the time of their writing, most of the New Testament books were accepted in Christian congregations. But after a time several books surfaced that brought forward the need for a set of books to be deemed acceptable. The councils took place to combat the rise of heresy in the church (see above). By 400 AD the canon was complete. An important fact to note is that these councils took place to acknowledge those inspired writings that were already recognized by the church. The Councils should not be viewed as authorizing, but validating, the canon of Scripture.
Principals Of Canonicity: On what basis were book included.
Apostolic Authority. There was a heavy emphasis that they book was properly authored. Thus James, 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, and Jude all had a difficult time being accepted.
Agreement In Doctrine. At the time, Christian orthodoxy was difficult to define. The Shepherd of Hermas was soft on divorce and was thus rejected. First two of previous page were together on Hebrews but Origin does not think Paul wrote it because the grammatical style was better. Thus the author’s writing, even though he is unknown, was accepted because the book was of lasting value. Apocrypha…
Antiquity. How close to the actual time of events was the book written?
Reception By The Churches. Is the book generally used by the churches? Thus the Canon is not decided on only by a council, but by the people of God.
The Spiritual Value. Which books helped people the most?
Q: At What Point Does A Book Become Scripture? When…
It has authority equal to that of the OT.
When read a Scripture in public worship.
When it became part of a collection of writings.
When it gained wide spread acceptance in the church.
History Of NT Text:
The earliest portion of NT writing is John 18:31-33 and is dated to 130-150 AD. The earliest complete copy of NT writing is dated to about 350 AD and is in parchment form. There are no NT Greek writings in existence that we can prove came from a scroll, all are on codex (Book form).
The earliest NT writings are in what is called “scripto-continuim.” This means they were written in all capitals, without vowels, or punctuation! (Example in English):
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
“Which Translation Is Best?”
Unless we read the Old and New Testament in the original languages, we are merely reading translations. As is most always the case, “something is lost in translation.” Subtle nuances of the languages are sometimes difficult to translate into English (Ie., John 21:15-17. Love: agape vs. phileo). But through the centuries many scholars have worked incessantly to transmit to us a test that is thoroughly reliable and compatible with the original languages. The whole Bible was in at least seven languages by the Sixth century AD (Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and Ethiopic).
Depending on the purpose, age of reader, and/or educational level, an appropriate translation can be chosen. Regarding purpose; If a person desires to seriously study scripture, I believe the English Standard Version is the best translation to use since the translators sought a word for word meaning from the original languages. If a person desires ease of reading, then the New International Version is probably best. If the reader has a devotional purpose in mind, then The Message is probably best.
If age level is a serious consideration in purchasing a Bible, Today’s English Version is an excellent translation. If educational level is at issue, don’t buy the King James Version since the archaic language is difficult for those of little education.
At one time I use the New International Version for Sunday morning sermons for several reasons (In no particular order): Same as pew Bibles purchased by the church, popular translation used by many in the church, and relative ease of understanding for most people.
NOTE (5/9/2007): I have recently decided to use the English Standard Version as the translation of choice. There are many reasons for this change the most important of which has to do with the dynamic equivalence method of translation (NIV) versus the essentially literal method of translation.
When I study, I use the ESV. The reason is that it is the closest word for word translation of the New Testament. When I read devotionally, I use The Message.
When considering which translation is of best value, those which are completed by teams of scholars are usually more reliable. It is rare that one person has the capability to know the nuances of language, grammar, and syntax to give a completely accurate translation of the whole Bible. There are men who devote their whole life to translating and understanding one book from the Scripture. When teams such as these work together there is a much greater likelihood of them producing an accurate translation of the Scripture. This procedure prevents personal preferences from effecting how they translate certain passages.
Religious politics has also played a part in translation. Example: When the KJV was being translated there was heated debate about how to translate the Greek word BAPTISMO. Some wanted to translate it “immerse,” others wanted to translate the word as “dip” (Either translation would be accurate). The debated could not be resolved so they decided to transliterate the word (assign English equivalent letters to the Greek word) and thus form the new English word, Baptize. This satisfied both camps and the word
Example 2: When the NIV was first published they translated Isaiah 9:6 to read “young woman” instead of “virgin.” The term “young woman” is one possible translation of that particular Hebrew word. But such an outcry resulted that it had the potential to hurt future sales of the NIV and thus it was changed to the traditional reading of “virgin” instead of “young woman.”
Note of Warning: Just because a book is called scripture today, does not mean that it should be trusted. This is true of “The New World Translation” (Jehovah Witnesses) and “The Book of Mormon” (Supposedly Another Testament of Jesus Christ).
Jehovah Witnesses have never, to my knowledge, divulged who the people were that were on the committee to translate the Scriptures so that their qualifications could be determined. Compare some passages from N.W.T. with NIV & NASB: John 1:1;
Isaiah 7:14; Hebrews 1:7-8.
“Another Testament Of Jesus Christ” is an abomination in God’s sight. This was supposedly translated by Joseph Smith from golden tablets with the aid of large glasses so he could understand the writing. When he was asked on the witness stand if he could read Greek & Hebrew he said yes, then when asked to identify the Greek alphabet, he was unable. Their writings are not Scripture and should not be read by true believers.
“The Apocrypha.” The term means, “of questionable origin.” They may have some value for devotional thought, but should never be considered on par with Scripture.
Listed below is a brief survey of some of the most notable translations for your consideration. Included is name of translation, date translated, translator, purpose of the translation, denominational affiliation, and grade reading level.
KJV. Written 1611. Translated by 6 teams (47 in all). Purpose was to put the Scriptures in the language of the common man. Affiliation: Church of England. Reading level is 12th grade.
NKJV. 1979-82. 130 Scholars. Remove archaic words of KJV. Conservative Evangelical. Grade reading level 8th.
ASV. 1901. 30 U.S. Scholars. American language translation…
NASB. 1963-71. 58 Scholars. Word for word translation. Conservative Evangelical. Grade reading level 11th.
TEV (Good New For Modern Man). 1966-76. R.G. Bratcher et al. Ease of understanding Evangelical. Reading grade level, 7.3.
NRSV. 1990. B. Metzger et al. Gender inclusive. Non-Denom. 8.1.
Living Bible. 1962-71. Kenneth Taylor. Ease of understanding. Evangelical.
NIV. 1973-78. 115 Scholars. Modern language. Trans-Denominational. 7.8
The Message. 1993. Eugene Peterson. Free paraphrase. Evangelical. 4.8
Comparison Of KJV with NIV.
When translating the KJV, the manuscripts in use were 1,000 years from the original date of writing. There were times when they had no Greek manuscript at all from which to translate! At these times they relied on the Latin Vulgate which they assumed to have been translated from the Original languages. Since 1611 more than 5,000 additional (and older) Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered. The result of this is a translation which is, at times, inaccurate.
Some instances where the KJV translators added to the Bible are: Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 23:14; Mark 7:16, 9:44, 46, 11:26, 15:28, Luke 17:36, 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37, 15:34, 24:7; Romans 16:24; and 1 John 5:7b-8a.
With the above cases now proven from the ancient documents, it is not erroneous to say that the translators added to God’s Word,
albeit unintentional. The desire for every Christian is to have as accurate a copy of God’s Word as possible.
There are also times where the reading given in the KJV is misleading to modern readers. Words have changed in their meaning and usage (Ie., “Gay” used to mean “happy.” Now it describes a deviant lifestyle.).
Some examples of words and the difficulty of understanding in the KJV (Compare with ESV or NIV):
Genesis 26:8, Genesis 26:31, 2 Chron 2:7, Job 20:3, Amos 5:24, Matthew 17:25, Luke 1:63, Acts 28:13, Rom 1:17, 1 Cor 4:4, 1 Cor 10:24, 1 Thes 1:4, 2 Tim 3:6, 2 Tim 3:13, Hebrews 8:12, James 5:11.
Archaic Phrases That Are No Longer In Use: (KJV used the language of the marketplace.)
Thou, Art, Thee, Cometh, Shalt.
Bidden v. Invited
Have worship v. Be honored
For this cause v. for this reason
My ways which be v. My ways which are
Textual Considerations That Relate To Transmission & Translation
There are several places in the Bible that show the need for continued study and evaluation of the text. There are places where it seems that editors have either added to, or taken away, from the original text. The process of determining when this has taken place is called Redaction Criticism (The process of comparing manuscripts from different families and dates to arrive at the most accurate text). Take for instance the following examples:
Matthew 5:22 “Without cause…” (Added to soften its import)
Matthew 5:44 “Bless those who…”
Matthew 17:21 “Prayer & fasting…” (Could lead to mystical religion)
1 John 5:7 (In Latin Vulgate, none pre 1400’s. Added by RCC to prove Trinity).
Below is an example of how one manuscript effected later manuscripts as they were copied. If one manuscript… say M4… had a
variant reading… then all subsequent manuscripts would include that variant reading. If the greatest number of subsequent manuscripts extant would contain the same reading. Thus textual examination would lend it’s self to relying upon the earliest
manuscripts that read the same. When variants are noticed, scholars trace back to earlier manuscripts that don’t have the variant as more reliable. (“M” stands for “Manuscript.” The number stands for the manuscript number).
Let’s say there is one manuscirpt (M1), known to be extremely old… and thus closest to the original time of writing. Then there are three more manuscripts (M2, M3, M4) that are dated to AFTER M1, but each of the three have slight deviations in part of the texts. Then there are three more sets of manuscripts (M5-M8; M9-M12; M13-16)… M5-M8 agree w/ M2 but not M3 or M4. That means that M1… M2… and M5-8 are of a text group. Then M9-12 agree with M3 but not M2 (And thus not M5-8). That means M3-M12 are of a second manuscript group. THEN the same is repeated with M4 and the manuscripts which follow after it. Thus, the manuscripts with the least deviation are the most reliable. When another manuscript is found… say it is designated M110… and it agrees with the best previous manuscripts (Those in the M2 group, it is deemed more reliable). NOTE: This is a sketch idea of what textual criticism is. You need to take the class!
 From class notes at NOBTS, “History Of The Bible,” Dr. Carlton Winbury.
 Ibid. Dr. Carlton Winbury.
 Ibid. Dr. Carlton Winbury.
 Ibid. Dr. Carlton Winbury.
 Ibid. Dr. Carlton Winbury.
 The NIV: The Making Of A Contemporary Translation. Zondervan Press: 1986, pages 142-156.