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αὐξανόμενοι εἰς τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ Θεοῦ
INTRODUCTION TO BIBLE READING
The Bible – the Word of God
PART ONE: THE OLD TESTAMENT
I. Introduction to the Old Testament
II. The Text of The Old Testament
III. Old translations of the Old Testament
PART TWO: THE NEW TESTAMENT
IV. Introduction to the New Testament
V. The Message to the Gentiles
VI. The Text of the New Testament
VII. Critical Editions of the New Testament
VIII. Old Translations of the New Testament
Appendix I - The Genesis account of Creation
Appendix II - The Bible as a historical document
Appendix III - Modern Bible Translations
This booklet was written, in its original form, to serve as a manual to use in my Church as a reference for various discussions on basic Bible topics. It was never actually used for this purpose if not a couple of times and not in the form you are reading it now. In fact, it actually became more and more filled with details, finding myself adding new material to collect what I have learned and know about this wonderful book.
I really enjoyed writing about the Bible in general, considering some aspects of it I always thought to deserve attention from a wider public than that usually acquainted with such notions.
Though not from a purely critical point of view, I enjoyed discussing of matters belonging to the field of textual criticism or higher criticism, historical and even deep theological matters, trying to do it in the simplest way possible.
It was not meant to be, but I am proud to present this which, at the time I am writing this introduction, can hardly be called more than a series of notes on various Bible related subjects.
I hope the reading of my notes will prove profitable and useful to many. If I will have evidence that it will be so, God willing, I will continue to add more material to it.
God bless all those who read his Word with faith and expectations. He will not let them down.
The Bible: The Word of God
The word Bible comes from the greek ta biblia, which means the books. The Bible is, in fact, a collection of 66 books. It is usually divided in two main sections called the Old Testament, written before Jesus, and the New Testament, written by the disciples of Jesus.
Any serious discussion about the Bible text has to start considering what is the principal and most important characteristic of this book: its claim to be the Word of God.
So write the apostles.
In II Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
The Bible is more than a common book, as many unbelievers often claim. It was written by men, no one denies. But those men were not writing their own thoughts or ideas, but what the Spirit of God moved them to write.
“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of the man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”, II Peter 1:21
We believe and explain the inspiration of the Bible as having been extended to all portions of the Bible, so that there is no part of the Bible that is not the Word of God. It also commonly also said that the Bible was verbally inspired, that is the very words of the text were inspired by God.
It would be useless to insist on the theological debate existing about the limits and consequences of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. I believe the simplicity of the Bible text is so devastating for all theories and complicated conceptions. In the simple phrase –just to quote one, but there are many: “Well spoke the Holy Ghost by E-sa’-ias the prophet …”, we find the sum of what we need to know and believe about Bible inspiration. Reading hundreds of pages, I am sorry to say, will add so little to this powerful concept: God speaks in his Word. I think it is far better to acknowledge the fact and be ready to receive from his word all the blessings he has prepared for us than to drawn in an ocean of theological expositions very unlikely to cast more light on the subject than the Bible itself does.
I like the comparison often made between Jesus, the Word incarnate, and the Bible, Word of God in written. Both have a human and a divine nature.
The human nature is in the fact that men wrote the books of the Bible, they wrote in human language and the books needed to be preserved through various collecting and copying processes.
The divine nature is in the fact that the Bible is the Word of God, spoken through men but spoken by God, and its consequent infallibility, that is the Bible contains no mistakes or contradictions whatsoever.
Surely the Bible is to be relied by men for their salvation and for Christians as the standard of their spiritual growth.
The Bible is to be read and studied regularly with the attitude of utmost reverence.
Paul wrote: “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.”, Colossians 4:16.
“I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.”, II Thessalonians 5:27.
Certainly, the words found in the beginning of the book of Revelation can be applied to the whole Scripture: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”, Revelation 1:3.
The Bible, then, is a collection of 66 books. 39 belong to the Old Testament and 27 to the New.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
I. Introduction to the Old Testament
The first and oldest books of the Bible –with the exeption, perhaps, of Job- are those written by Moses, called the Law (Torah, in Hebrew), or more commonly, Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
God expressly commanded Moses to write the Law. Exodus 17:14, “And the Lord said unto Moses, write this for a memorial in a book.”
Jesus testified that Moses was the author of the Law. John 5:46-47, “...For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”
Some scholars have cast doubt on the mosaic authorship of the Law. They thought alphabetical writing was unknown to Moses and oral tradition was predominant in his days. Time and more recent discoveries have proved both presumptions to be false and destitute of all evidence. Entire libraries, older than the times of Moses, have been discovered in the Middle-East, at Ugarit, and some scholars go as far as the ca. BC 1983-1786 to date the origin of the alphabet, but not of writing, which in its various forms, hieroglyphics, cuneiform, existed and was used earlier than 3000 years BC. In the days of Abraham, who lived more than 400 years before Moses, in Ur, in Mesopotamia, grammar texts have been found, comparing the language of the Sumer with other Semitic languages, astronomy texts, medicine texts.
Then, it is clear that Moses knew an alphabet in which he could write his books. Moreover, from these findings we learn that -as the command of God to Moses we just stressed- not oral tradition but written texts were used to hand down memories or facts or documents to future generations.
So, not only Moses might have written the Law, but it is quite improbable that he would not write it. He may even just have edited – in the Genesis – previously existing writings, handed down to him from the times of Abraham or even older.
The Law then is the first Hebrew division of the Old Testament. Then follow the Prophets and the Writings.
To this division is made reference of by Jesus in Luke 24:44: “And he -Jesus- said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
Today’s Bibles follow the division of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that was very popular among Christians of the first century, which has the books of Moses, Historical and Poetical Writings, Major and Minor Prophets, following a more chronological disposition. In our Bibles the books are 39.
Though the books are the same, in the Hebrew collection their number is different. I and II Kings are just one book; the same applies to I and II Chronicles. The reason is very simple. In the Hebrew texts vowels were not used and the use of consonants only made the books short enough to be copied in just one scroll. When translated, with the insertion of vowels, the text became too long and the books, only for the sake of necessity, had to be divided in two parts.
II. The Text of The Old Testament
But how were these books handed down to our days?
The first printed edition of the Old Testament was produced only in 1488 AD, in Soncino, Italy.
Before that time, for 2.800 years, the Old Testament had been transmitted from a generation to another by copying it in manuscripts.
It is not difficult to imagine that soon after the sacred books were written, people started to make copies of it, so that they would be spread and that when older copies were ruined by the use, they might be replaced by newly produced ones.
The text we have today is obtained by carefully comparing the surviving manuscripts. The process of collecting, comparing and editing the text is the task of the so called textual criticism.
But how trustworthy was the copying process in order to maintain that the text we have today is virtually the same the authors wrote?
First, it is very interesting to notice some facts.
No other book like the Old Testament shows such an incredible accurate spelling of names.
‘There are twenty-nine ancient kings whose names are mentioned not only in the Bible but also on monuments of their own time; many of them under their own supervision. There are one hundred and ninety-five consonants in these twenty-nine proper names. Yet we find that in the documents of the Hebrew Old Testament there are only two or three out of the entire hundred and ninety-five about which there can be any question of their being written in exactly the same way as they were inscribed on their own monuments. Some of these go back for two thousand years, some for four thousand; and are so written that every letter is clear and correct. this is surely a wonder’, Which Bible edited by David O. Fuller, page 45.
This proves two things:
First. The writers of the books were contemporaries of the times they are writing about or could dispose of the most reliable historical records, showing their personal effort for the utmost accuracy.
Second. The correct copying of such minor details such as the spelling of names permits us to suppose the utmost care used during the copying process in general, becoming a clear hint by which we can derive its reliability.
‘That the names should have been transmitted to us through so many copyings and so many centuries in so complete a state of preservation is a phenomenon unequaled in the history of literature’, Which Bible, page 55.
Yes, God was taking care that the text of the Bible would get to us in the most reliable form.
As far as the manuscript evidence for the Old Testament is concerned, it is, compared to the New’s, quite poor. For many years very few manuscripts survived and relatively recent in date.
Here is a list of the most prominent:
-Aleppo Codex, named A, dated 925 AD, which contains all the Old Testament, except the books of Moses.
-Leningrad Codex, named L, dated 1008, which contains all the New Testament.
-British Museum 4445, named B, dated 925, most of the Law.
-Cairo Codex, named C, dated 896, contains the Prophets.
-Sassoon 507, named S, dated X century, most of the Law.
These manuscripts represent the so called Masoretic Text of the Old Testament. It is the text that was used by the translators of Bible translations of the XVII century, such as the King James Version, 1611, and the Italian Diodati, 1607-1649. And even to this days, it enjoys credit by critics.
The Masoretes fixed the vowels in the text of the Old Testament, originally written without them, in a written form instead of the oral. They also recorded the accents and developed a system of notes. They cared of course that faithful copies would be made.
Because of the relatively recent age of the witnesses to the Masoretic text, it was underestimated by some scholars. But the discovery in 1947 of the so called Dead Sea Scrolls, opened new doors for a better understanding of the history of the transmission of the Old Testament.
Manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were found there dating from II century BC to I century AD. Thus, taking back the witness to the text of the Old Testament of about a thousand years.
In particular, a very old and complete copy of Isaiah was found. About such incredible recovery a scholar had to say:
‘The conspicuous differences in spelling and grammatical forms between the St. Mark’s manuscript and the Masoretic text makes their substantial agreement in the words of the text all the more remarkable...It is a matter of wonder that through something like a thousand years the text underwent so little alteration.’, Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism, page 95.
The slight differences in the spelling proves that the documents come from different and independent sources and thus their agreement is even more significant.
The text of the Old Testament has then been confirmed, as far as historical evidence is concerned.
Ellis R. Brotzman concludes: “...90 per cent or more of the text...exists without variation...”, Old Testament Textual Criticism, page 23.
As far as faith is concerned there has never been any doubt that the hand of God knew how to take care of it, because it would have been useless to inspire a text that would get lost in his journey through history.
God Himself has preserved the text that He has inspired.
To say that with Jesus’ words: “For verily I say to you, till heaven and earth shall pass away, one jot or one tittle shall by no means pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”, Matthew 5:18
III. Old translations of the Old Testament
Various translations of the Old Testament have been attempted during its quite long history. Not as many as of the New Testament, because of the national distinction of the Jewish religion, and many motivated by the Christian use of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Translations cannot be underestimated as witness to the original text, proving the existence, the diffusion and the state of a text when translated. So the many manuscripts of translation strengthen the witness of manuscripts to the original.
The most famous of Old Testament translations is the famous Greek one, called the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), that goes back to the III century BC among the Jews of the dispersion in Egypt.
It was during the reign of Ptolemy Filadelphus (285-246 BC) that 72 Jewish scholars began the translation of the Pentateuch. Out of their number, rounded to 70, came the name Septuagint.
Later, the remnant of the books were translated and available to Greek speaking Jews.
The importance of the LXX cannot be underestimated as it became the Old Testament of the first Christians, when the majority of them was not Jew and could not read Hebrew, while Greek was the best known language in the Roman Empire. It was even quoted in the New Testament, written also in Greek.
The first Christian translations of the Old Testament were from the Septuagint and not from the original Hebrew.
Other Greek translations of the Old Testament were made in the II century AD (ca. 150) by Aquila, a Jewish proselyte, by Theodotion, which became very popular with Christians and by Symmachus, whose translation influenced the work of Jerome.
The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament included the books called Apocrypha by protestants and Deuterocanonical by Catholics come from. Those books or portions of books never entered the Palestinian Hebrew text. They were written during the time of the long silence between Malachi and Matthew, thus not having the authority of other Scriptures. They were written among the Jews of the dispersion, who were not so radical as the Jews in Jerusalem.
They were received by many Christians of the first centuries, mostly because in the Septuagint.
Jerome then pointed out that he did not find those books in the Hebrew canon of Scriptures.
The Catholic Church receives them as Scripture, as decreed by the Council of Trent in 1546. Protestants reject them for the above mentioned reasons and their indubitable inferiority of value, historical and religious, to the canonical books.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
IV. Introduction to the New Testament
The New Testament has 27 books.
The first three are the so called synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke.
The forth Gospel was written by John, the beloved.
The Acts of the Apostles follow, written by Luke.
After the book of Acts come the epistles of the Apostle Paul, that bear the name of the church to which they were addressed: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Many claim the epistles to the Hebrews was also written by him, but many don’t, and as no name appears in the heading, we can’t be dogmatic about it, though the author of this booklet is convinced that Paul wrote this epistle also.
After Paul’s, the so called general epistles come. They take the name of the writer and not of the addressee: James, I and II Peter, I, II and III John and Jude.
The Revelation is the last book of the Bible and the only prophetic one of the New Testament.
The natural division of the New Testament is: Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Revelation.
As for the Old Testament, also for the New there is no agreement between Christian scholars and Christian tradition, concerning the exact date of composition of the books and, of course, as a consequence, its authority.
As usual, critics of a certain school are for a more (relative) recent date of composition for the Gospels.
It all goes back to the German school and their incapacity of adapting their mentality to the circumstances of the times of the Lord.
It is quite understandable that after the resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of preaching the gospel even to the Gentiles, the accounts of the life of Jesus would be written by eye-witnesses.
The first of the gospels is Matthew. The name this book bears is a clear sign of its authenticity. If it had borne the name of Peter or of Thomas, it would have not had the same authority. Because it is obvious that it was only close scrutiny of the authentically apostolic origin that might lead the whole church to consider this book as Scripture, as it came from the least known of the apostles.
Matthew must have written his gospel very soon. He wrote it addressing the Jews. Jesus is then presented by his gospel as the King, “the son of David and the son of Abraham”, 1:1, the one who came to fulfill the old testament prophecies. This book is then filled with Old Testament quotations to show that Jesus is the Messiah the Jewish people so long awaited.
Mark is the author of the second gospel. He is not an apostle. Tradition says he wrote down the memories of the apostle Peter; but it is no more than a supposition.
The key of this Gospel is: “For the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”, Mark 10:45.
The second gospel is the gospel of the Servant.
Luke, “the beloved physician”, Col.4:14, is the author of the third gospel, that presents Jesus as the Son of man: Key-verse, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”, Luke 19:10
This gospel is addressed to the gentiles and no one better than Luke could have written it.
The beginning of his work shows clearly his Greek mentality: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them to us, who from the beginning ere eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mayest know the certainty of those things, in which
thou hast been instructed.”, Luke 1:4.
He was not an eyewitness, but reassures his readers that he diligently collected all the information, to relate faithfully the story of Jesus to confirm those that have believed.
The last gospel is that of John. In the fourth gospel, Jesus is the Son of God. The goal of this writing is explained in John 20:31: “...these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God...”
This was the last of the four to be written and completes perfectly the fourfold picture of the person of Jesus given by the New Testament Gospels: King, Servant, Son of man, Son of God.
The date of composition of these four books has been long debated. A very famous German scholar of the last century, Ferdinand Christian Baur believed the Gospel of John not to have been composed before 160 AD. He founded a school of thought.
But later, a manuscript was discovered (named P52) in Egypt and dated 125 AD or even earlier, according to some scholars. Baur was wrong and the traditional view right.
A late date is still assigned to the other gospels by many.
The relatively recent book of J.A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 1976, assigns a date before the AD. 70 to the Gospels.
Carsten P. Theide, in his book, “The earliest Gospel Manuscript?..., and Eyewitness to Jesus”, identifies and dates fragments of the Gospel of Mark (called 7Q5) around the year AD. 50, and redates others to an earlier date, claiming that later dates were assigned to manuscripts just to fit the scholars theories on the gospel’s composition This scholar – with roght - affirms boldly that the reverse should be true.
It is clear that some critics forget the obvious: The gospels could have not been written. It is impossible that the early Christianity coming out from the religion of the book, Judaism, did not feel the need to write the story and teachings of Jesus to confirm that from an authoritative -apostolic- point of view, to avoid false representation by heretics -existing also during the apostolic era.
Luke says: “many have taken in hand to set forth in order the declaration of the things which are more surely believed among us.”, Luke 1:1.
One more obvious thing forgotten is that the Church had enough critical sense (“try the spirits”, John wrote in his first epistle) and sufficient organization to discard false gospels and writings and receive the true.
It is inevitable that even the apostles would help the collection and reading of the true apostolic writings.
We already quoted Paul and John encouraging Christians to read and spread their writings.
Peter wrote: “Knowing that shortly I must put off [this] my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shown me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we
made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”, II Peter 1:14-16
Again, later in the same epistle he sanctions the work of Paul and the use (that he also confirms as usual) of his writings as Scripture: “...even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given to him hath written to you; as also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.”, II Peter 3:15-16.
The same goes with the canon of the New Testament, that is the collection of books as we have it today in our Bibles.
We don’t know exactly when and how it was formed, but we can be sure that the care of the apostles and of the men of the generation after theirs, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, guarantees the results.
V. The Message to the Gentiles.
In the Old Testament it had been prophesied that the Gentiles, the non-Jewish, would have been called to salvation in the days of the Messiah. Many passages can be adduced in the books of Isaiah, Geremiah, Zaccariah and Jesus confirmed: “...many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”, Matthew 8:11.
Paul wrote then of “...the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is revealed to his saints: To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”, Colossians 1:26.
Peter opened the door of salvation to the gentiles, as recorded in Acts 10. Paul then was called to be a Christian and the apostle to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15, Galatians 1:8.
The call of the Gentiles and the incredible spread that the Christian faith knew in the beginning of our era is motivated and to be understood as the result of the work of God to create the circumstances so that the Gospel might have been preached in the whole Roman Empire.
In the IV century BC an unprecedented event took place, a king came from the west, from Greece, to conquer the east and all the known world. The legend says that Alexander the Great wept because he did not have any more lands to conquer.
Alexander died at 33. Though he left no heirs to his throne and his kingdom was divided among his generals, he had planted the seed for the spread of Ellenism, the Greek culture, thought and language throughout the all then known world.
During the days of the apostles, more than 200 years later, Rome was the leading force of the world. The Roman Empire spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea: Italy, northern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East were all in the hands of the Roman Emperor. Even Israel was Roman.
The Roman influence was more political than cultural. The world was still in the hands of Ellenism and the most widely spoken language was Greek. Even the inscriptions of the emperor on his coins would be in Greek and the term “tou soteros tou kosmou”, “the Savior of the world”, applied by John (John 4:42) to our Lord, was a roman title ascribed to the emperor.
The spread of Ellenic culture permitted the gospel be preached to all nations, Matthew 28:19, according to the mandate given by Jesus to the Apostles.
The hand of God worked in history in order to create the right conditions so that the Gospel might really be preached unto every creature. Greek was commonly spoken by merchants. The apostles were fishermen, but they knew Greek. It was common during those days as English is today.
The New Testament was all written in this beautiful language, perhaps the most developed speech (certainly for tenses of verbs) ever produced by man.
And as historical conditions were not a product of chance, nor was the person called to the ministry of apostleship to the gentiles chosen by chance. He himself had written: “God...separated me from my mother’s womb”, Galatians 1:15.
The Epistles Paul wrote met perfectly the needs of the newly converted gentile people. He was able to discuss Greek Philosophy and Gnosticism in their own field. The Greek terminology he uses in Colossian for example is so accurate to the least detail that the reading of the original Greek text is an amazing adventure into the deepest Christian theological affirmations.
Galatians could be written by Paul and Paul alone, for he was also able to display the utmost knowledge of the Hebrew customs to fight giudaizers, another threat to the first gentile Christians.
The needs met by the writings of Paul to the first Christian churches meet the needs of today’s churches as well and are the most accurate and detailed source for Christian doctrine God could provide for the Church.
The hand of God was really working when he prepared the conditions for the New Testament to be written and spread for salvation to reach every creature under heaven.
It is the marvelous work of our God of endless love and wisdom.
VI. The Text of the New Testament.
Just like for the Old Testament, the first printed edition was released at relatively a late date, in 1516.
Until that time, the transmission and diffusion of the text of the New Testament was due to hand copied manuscripts.
Again, the text we posses today is the result of the estimation of the surviving manuscript activity of the church.
We find quite amazing data concerning the surviving witness to the text of the New Testament.
To better realize what we are talking about we have to make a short preface.
Bruce Metzger, in his book The Text of the New Testament, page 34, relates that Homer’s Iliad is preserved in a bit more than 600 manuscripts. Euripides in less than 400 manuscripts. The Annals of the historian Tacitus is preserved in a single manuscript of the IX century AD. Many ancient authors are witnessed by isolated Middle Ages manuscripts.
Evidence for the New Testament both in number and date (comparatively very close to the originals) of manuscripts is far more overwhelming.
More than 5.000 manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament alone survive. To them we should add manuscripts of translations and of lectionaries used for church reading (in number of 2135 for the Greek New Testament).
The problem textual critics of the New Testament face is exactly the opposite of those faced by secular textual critics: they have too
much evidence to collect, compare and edit.
The following is just a short list of the most important New Testament manuscripts.
Papyrus manuscripts are conventionally named P followed by a progressive number, given at their discovery. Uncial Codexes, so called because all written in capital letters and in a sort of book form, are indicated by a capital letter of the alphabet.
Notwithstanding the enormous number of manuscripts, the faithful transmission of the text of the New Testament is assured by the considerably slight differences arising among them.
This is again plain evidence of God’s care in preserving his Word.
In considering the evidence of the text of the New Testament from all sources, Westcott and Hort, perhaps the best known scholars on New Testament textual criticism, conclude: “...the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text.”, Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, page 2.
If we compare Bibles of various times and according to different translations, we’ll see that this is more than accurate and could be even considered an underestimation if we think that what critics may consider of value could be ignored by the average Bible reader.
This has to be kept in view when evaluating the differences in critical editions of the Bible or the New Testament we are now about to consider.
VII. Critical Editions of the New Testament
An editing of the text of the New Testament (just as for the Old) is necessary because of the choice that text has to be made among the different readings (called variant readings) found among the extant manuscripts.
The first Greek text of the New Testament ever published in printed form, was the edition of 1516 of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. Later, this was called the Textus Receptus, for its general use and acceptance. It lies at the base of Bible translations of those days, like the King James Version, 1611, or the Italian Diodati, 1607.
No critical edition of the New Testament had been able to replace the Textus Receptus until 1881. In that year, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, published The New Testament in the Original Greek, a revision of the Textus Receptus in the light of the then newly discovered manuscripts Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both representing the oldest (IV century) and most complete evidence available.
It was mainly on their text that the English Revised Version was produced.
Since then all new editions of the Greek New Testament and the newer translations based on them, are following basically the text of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, still thought to be the best.
Recent editions of the Greek New Testament are said to be reproducing the so called Standard Text, which is thought to be the nearest text that can be retraced to better represent the originals.
This, after 100 years of efforts, will probably become the new “Textus Receptus.”
All the newest translations are based on this text. The only exceptions are the American New King James Version and the Italian Nuova Diodati, based on the Textus Receptus.
The birth of the Revised Version, back in 1881, was not left without strong criticism from various parts of christendom. It was only the beginning of a long and complicate debate going on still to this day, though mostly regarding the English speaking christians.
VIII. Old Translations of the New Testament
Though we said that Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, was a very common language, due to the fast spread of Christianity throughout the Empire, the need for translations was very soon felt.
The Latin translation of the Bible was attempted very early and in various places where this language was spoken. So St. Augustine could complain: “no sooner did anyone gain possession of a Greek manuscript, and imagine himself to have any facility in both languages (however slight that might be), than he made bold to translate it.”, quoted by Bruce Metzger, The Text of The New Testament, page 67.
The Old Latin Version is then a series of versions that circulated in Europe and North Africa as early as the third century.
For the confusion arising, in about AD 382 Jerome, a well learned man, was commissioned to revise the Old Latin. He translated the Old Testament out of the Hebrew language.
His work is perhaps the most important of early Bible translations, the so called Latin Vulgate.
8.000 manuscripts are still extant of this Bible translation.
For many years it was the Roman Catholic Bible and the only one to be read, when the church of Rome forbade unauthorized translations of the Bible in any other tongue.
The Syrian translation is also very old: II-III century. In the beginning of the fifth century, prior to AD 431, the Syrian translation was revised and became the so called Peshitta or Syrian Vulgate and received general acceptance among Syrian-speaking churches.
More than 350 manuscripts survive, dating back to the fifth and sixth century.
Other old translations are: the Coptic Version, the Armenian, the Georgian, the Ethiopic.
Nowadays, the Bible or portions of it have been translated in almost all the languages and dialects of the world and the Bible is still the most widely read book in the world.
The Bible is more than a book. Those who believed know that it can change lives.
From people who were addicted to drugs, alcoholism, stealing, to people who just felt a big awful emptiness, the Bible has been changing the lives of millions around the world and throughout history.
Those that attended the study of the Scriptures with a sincere and humble heart, know that God talks through those words: it is just a matter of being willing to listen. Man needs only to take the challenge, God’s challenge:
“...prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
The Genesis account of Creation
Please, let me say something about the Genesis account of Creation
The most disputed and discussed Bible text is without any doubt the Genesis account of creation. I have spoken to so many who would argue that the Genesis story is ridiculous, of no scientific value. I answer to that saying that the Bible story on how the world was created, is so perfectly and beautifully written that I am convinced that any other way of writing it would have made it useless.
It is vital to understand that this writing, apparently so simple to today’s learned readers, has explained successfully the beginning of the world and of the sinful human condition for more than 3500 years. Some may try to discredit such text, but evidence is clear that, at least one billion times more than the most credited scientific text, it has spoken to millions in an intelligible way concerning the beginning of all things.
Scientists and their writings maybe so credited in one generation, but totally discredited in the following. No “Bible” of science -though science is so much credited in the abstract- has ever been published. When I say “bible” of science I mean two simple things: A book which is universally agreed to contain irrefutable scientific evidence on the origin of life –theories are theories, not facts! – and that the same text is readable with profit by everyone. Such text, I venture say, if ever possible, will be written thousands of years ahead of our time, if ever science will learn everything about everything and all men will be giant in learning.
Till then, the Bible will still be the most satisfactory account of how all things were created and the best answer given to the sadness of human condition.
More than this, if the Bible was a true scientific account in the full sense of the term, written by God himself, who would have been able to read it? My friends asking for scientific accuracy, would be in the same position as the most learned scientific scholars: Unable to grasp the content of a scientific account of creation given by God himself ! Can’t you agree with this?
Even scientists, when they intend to write books on topics which are hard to understand for laymen, they try to simplify difficult matters translating them in lay terms, in a terminology as simple as possible, so that it may be understood by their target readers. How the more this is true with God!
My point is: the Bible story of Genesis is the only way God could have explained with success the origin of the world to the men living in all the various parts of the earth, of different culture and tradition, in a length of time expanding today for more than 3500 years.
The Bible as a historical document
Why is it that scholars always rely on any historical documentation to prove the foundation of biblical data and not the contrary ? Why is it that documents from various, sometimes anonymous sources, are welcome with enthusiasm, while the information contained in the Bible is not accepted if not confirmed by other historical evidence ?
The fact is simple and I am sorry to say. People are reluctant toward admitting the historical reliability of the Bible, because they cannot accept the religious significance of that book. At the same time, recognizing the accountability of the Bible in itself, representing an unparalleled phenomena in the history of the world, many will be left only to discuss the religious value of such incredible, amazing document – a thing which is avoided and dismissed easily by accusing the Bible of being a collection of traditions and false information. Such is not the case. I dare say that, where there has been a way to confirm the Bible with other documents, excavations, archeological findings and personal experience, it has been proven to be the most reliable of history texts ever written. I dare also say that this is an undeniable FACT, true until the contrary is proven – and it has never been proven.
Let me ask you a simple question: What is history? I want the reader to ask himself this question, going beyond the blind acceptance of history text required in school.
I will give you my idea of history.
Eleven men – and many others with them, but they had this special charge – witnessed an extraordinary unparalleled event in history. To this event they were called to bear witness to all men of this event because after that the world could not be the same anymore and the lives of those who believed this event to actually have taken place would not be the same anymore. They were so convinced of what they had seen and of the magnitude of what they had seen that they were ready to die to fulfill their mission of witnesses to mankind. Probably 10 of those eleven men died because of this testimony, of one of them we know that he was put in prison on an island called Patmos: all of them sealing their testimony in their own blood, because who would die for a lie or even for something he doubted?
The historical event I am talking about is the resurrection of Jesus and the witnesses are the apostles.
This I call history, based on the authority of eye-witnesses report, all agreeing with one another and all ready to live for it and die, if necessary, because of it.
If we cannot accept this historical event as reported in the Bible, when of such weight is the evidence in its favor, there is not much chance we’ll be inclined to consider the rest of the Bible as dependable.
Personally, I was always interested in a special way in the study of the book of Daniel. This book has been attacked in a very special way by non-believers. Scholars of the past called a mistake the fact that the book says Belshazzar was king of Babylon, Daniel 5:1. This only because profane documents did not mention this king. Such was the case until more recent findings showed that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the actual king, reigning as viceroy in Babylon. No mistakes in the Bible. If we carefully read the text, in verse 29, Daniel is made by the king “the third ruler in the kingdom”, of course after him and his father: the text was perfectly correct also as far has history is concerned.
In various places it is said that Moses wrote the law. In the past such a thing was considered impossible, because alphabetical writing was supposed to be unknown to Moses and to his contemporaries. The denial of the mosaic authorship of the first five books of our Bibles cannot be based on such an assumption anymore, because time and new discoveries proved it to be false. What about those who based their ideas on false assumptions? I am sorry to say that to the mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch I find no better and more reliable historical witness than that of Jesus, who clearly recognized Moses as author of the Law, and treated what he wrote as reliable history.
The Bible, being the written Word of God, I consider to be reliable as the Word of God made flesh, our Lord Jesus.
Modern Bible Translations
Today the Bible has been translated in almost all the existing languages and dialects. We have already discussed of old translations, in Greek for the Old Testament, in Latin and other languages for the whole Bible following the spread of the Christian Church.
We have to wait for the Reformation and the Protestant movement for a new serious organized effort to translate the Bible for everyone to read.
In the Middle Age, the Roman Catholic Church had adopted the Latin language as its official language. The Mass was all in Latin. The Bible translation adopted was the so called Vulgate, a translation of Jerome made in the fifth centuries. In 1436, during the Council of Trent, the Roman Church officially sanctioned the Vulgate as the only authorized and official translation of the Church and forbade the translation of the Bible in other languages. In doing so the Roman Church tried to stop the spreading Reformation and the diffusion of the fundamental principles it carried: the personal interpretation of the Scriptures and the right of every Christian to have access to them. Against the corruption of the Church of Rome, a monk named Marthin Luther published 95 thesis, which stirred all Europe. From that time on Christianity was divided, and, please, let me say that, the people found enough reasons in the Bible to which now they had access, to give up the Roman despotism and spiritual tyranny.
So we can say that Bible translations grew proportionally with the Protestant Reformation, though many independent movements and personal efforts are behind it. Men like Wyclif, Tyndale, Hus, paid the highest price at the hands of the Roman Church for translating the Bible and spreading its text among the people. In Italy the Waldesians survived the Catholic persecutions hiding in the mountains. Everywhere, the need for Bible translations was felt. In Germany, Martin Luther translated the whole Bible. In Italy, Giovanni Diodati translated the Scriptures in 1607. In 1611 England was given by her king the so called Authorized Version, cherished by Christian Churches even today.
Why did Catholics fight against Bible and translations and Protestant encouraged them?
There is a main difference between the Catholic Church and the so called Protestant Churches: the Istitutionalism of the Church.
The Catholic Church in her hierarchy system, believes to have been instituted by Jesus when he nominated Peter the first Pope ( Matthew 16:16-18 ), and its organization it believes to be the Church. The consequences of this assumption are: where the Roman Church is, there is God. Being the Church instituted by God, the Holy Spirit guides it. Whatever the Roman Church teaches this is the Word of God, God’s teaching.
Quite different is the matter for Protestant Churches. The exact contrary, and with right, for such is the teaching we find in the Bible. In fact, it is quite clear in the New Testament that there where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, because no man or people has the monopoly of God. The Church is never seen as a group of people, an institution, and organization, a hierarchy, in the New Testament the Church is the whole assembly of the believers. There are no ranks in the Church, but only ministries. The Church is an organism and not an organization.
The basic consequence for such an approach to the truth of the Church is that the Catholics don’t have to read the Bible and interpret that but learn from Catechism, which is the official and infallible teaching of the Roman Church. No direct knowledge of the Bible is necessary for salvation but just conforming to the Catholic teachings.
Jerome wrote that the ignorance of the Scriptures is the ignorance of Christ and that is why Christians have to have access to the Bible, read it, cherish it, love it as the Word of God, personally feeling the need of communion with God through the Scriptures, conforming themselves to the Lord’s teachings. No one has the monopoly of the Spirit of the Lord, so that if we are Christians we have the Spirit of God in us. The New Testament is too clear about such facts. I don’t want to list all the passages, I want to encourage the reader to personally investigate the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are the purest witness to the Christian faith and fear or lack of interest in reading it is only due because of no interest in what God says in His Word and of no interest of conforming to it.
During the Protestant reformation, the Catholic Church was a tyrant ruling spiritually the whole world. The clergy had unlimited power and privileges. All revolts against such shame were silenced in blood. The Roman institution called to find and punish all the of the Catholic Church enemies was the Inquisition, through which incredible crimes against man’s right to freedom and the most basic of human rights were perpetrated. The only interest of the Roman clergy was to keep their privileges and their power and they did it, no matter the price that had to be paid.
With such basic distinction in mind, we understand why the growing number of Bible translations in modern times is due to the spreading and growing religious freedom and need for personal investigation of the Word of God and the Truth found in it.
Today the Bible has been translated in almost all the languages of the world and its message is spread by missionaries worldwide.
I have already mentioned the greatest translations of the Bible of the Protestant Reform, the King James Version, the Italian Diodati – which being Italian I like to mention and cherish in a particular way-, the German translation of Martin Luther. Of course there have been many other translations in various languages – the Valdesians, for example had their own translation. The Geneva Bible is also worthy of being mentioned. The efforts of Wycliff and Tyndale must not be left without praise as the first steps into the religious freedom we all enjoy today and – sad but true – we give too much for granted.
A turning point in Bible translating was the year 1881. In that year the English Revised Version was published in England. Not only it updated the translation of the King James Version, but it also updated the text. In doing so, it created a division, two parallel school of thoughts, still alive today among the English speaking language people: One still supporting the text of the King James, the other supporting the newer text. Let me reassure the reader that such differences do not alter the purity of the text of the Bible available to the average reader. The only exeption to this rule I know is the New World Translation, the Bible as translated and used by Jehowah’s Witnesses. Whereas the average Bible translations differ for type of language used (modern or less modern), for rendering the meaning of the original text or translating it literally, for the adoption of various editions of the original texts, the New World Translation stands alone as the most manipulated and adulterated Bible text. The people responsible for that will give good account to God.
We can safely say that we can choose the translation we finds in the shelf of any bookstore and be sure to have the Word of God in our hands. If we go on in studying the Word of God, hopefully we will get to study it so deep to be interested in choosing among different Bibles.