At the time of Jesus (In the origins of Christianity) There was a Bible, but not like the one we have today. There was a Bible in the sense that there were sacred books widely recognized by Jews as foundational to their religion and supremely authoritative for religious practice. There was not, however, a Bible that looked like the one that we have today.

  The collection or collections of the Scriptures varied from group to group and from time to time. All Jews would have recognized "the Law" (the Torah) and most would have recognized "the Prophets" as belonging to that collection. Such a recognition is attested by references in the New Testament to the "Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12; Luke 16:16; and Romans 3:21). But the exact contents of "the Prophets" may not have been the same for all, and the status of other books beyond "the Law and the Prophets" was neither clear nor widely accepted. The notion of a wider collection of Scriptures that extended beyond the Law and Prophets is suggested by an intriguing passage in Luke 24:44 which says;

  "And he 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."

  "The Bible," or more accurately then, "the Scriptures," would have been a collection of numerous separate scrolls, each containing usually only one or two books. There is indeed persuasive evidence that certain books were considered "Scripture." But there is little evidence that people were seriously asking the question yet about the extent or the limits of the collection, the crucial question for a "Bible" or "canon," which books are in and which books are outside this most sacred collection.

  The word "Bible" has different meanings for different people and groups. The most obvious difference in content is between the Bible of Judaism (that is to say, the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) and that of Christianity, which contains both the Old and New Testaments.

  The list of books included in a Bible is termed a "canon." There are three main canons in the different Bibles used today.
 Jewish Tanak (24)      Protestant OT (39)     Roman Catholic OT (46) 
Torah (5) Pentateuch (5) Pentateuch (5)
Genesis Genesis Genesis
Exodus Exodus Exodus
Leviticus Leviticus Leviticus
Numbers Numbers Numbers
Deuteronomy Deuteronomy Deuteronomy
Prophets (8) Historical Books (12)   Historical Books (16)
Joshua Joshua Joshua
Judges Judges Judges
Samuel Ruth Ruth
Kings 1&2 Samuel 1&2 Samuel
Isaiah 1&2 Kings 1&2 Kings
Jeremiah 1&2 Chronicles 1&2 Chronicles
Ezekiel Ezra Ezra
Twelve Minor Prophets   Nehemiah Nehemiah
Hosea Esther Tobit
Joel Judith
Amos Esther + Additions
Obadiah 1&2 Maccabees
Writings (11) Poetry/Wisdom (5) Poetry/Wisdom (7)
Psalms Job Job
Job Psalms Psalms
Proverbs Proverbs Proverbs
Ruth Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs Song of Songs Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes Wisdom of Solomon
Lamentations Ecclesiastes
Prophets (17) Prophets (18)
Isaiah Isaiah
Jeremiah Jeremiah
Lamentations Lamentations
Ezekiel Baruch + Letter of Jeremiah.
Daniel Ezekiel
Hosea Daniel + Prayer of Azariah,
 Song of the 3 Young Men,
 Susanna, Bel and the Dragon.
Joel Hosea
Amos Joel
Obadiah Amos
Jonah Obadiah
Micah Jonah
Nahum Micah
Habakkuk Nahum
Zephaniah Habakkuk
Haggai Zephaniah
Zechariah Haggai
Malachi Zechariah
  1.  The Jewish Bible (or Tanak) contains twenty–four books in three sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.

  2.  The Protestant Old Testament contains the same books as the Tanak, but in four sections and in a different order: the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Poetical Books, and the Prophets. In addition, the Protestant canon contains thirty–nine books, not twenty–four, because it counts separately several books that comprise single books in the Jewish Bible. For example, the one Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Jewish canon becomes the twelve books of the Minor Prophets in the Protestant Bible.

  3.  The Roman Catholic Old Testament contains exactly the same four divisions and thirty–nine books as the Protestant Bible, but also includes further writings. Seven of these are entire books (Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch [which includes the Letter of Jeremiah]); the others are sections added to Esther (the Additions to Esther) and to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon). For Catholics, these additional writings are part of the Bible and are thus known as the "deuterocanonical books" (a second group of canonical books). However, Jews and most Protestants do not view these writings as Scripture, labeling them the "Apocrypha" (plural of "Apocryphon"), which means "hidden books."

  Some scholars believe that these books are not in the Jewish and Protestant canons because they are later than most other biblical books (Daniel being an exception), while others point to their supposed secular or unorthodox content as the reason for exclusion. The real explanation, however, is more complicated and goes back to two ancient Bibles. Early Christians accepted the Greek Septuagint, which contains these additional books, as their Old Testament, while early Rabbis finalized the list of books for the Hebrew Bible in the second century AD. It is these two early collections (the shorter Hebrew one and the longer Greek one) that determine which books are included in the Bibles used by modern Jews, Protestants, and Catholics. Jews, followed by Protestants, regard the shorter collection as Scripture, whereas Catholics accept a larger canon that includes apocryphal/deuterocanonical writings found in the Septuagint.

  All modern Bibles are translations of older texts. The Scriptures used by most readers (whether Jewish, Protestant, or Roman Catholic) are based on much older manuscripts that have been translated into English. The three most important of these older Bibles are known as the "Masoretic Text" (MT), the "Septuagint" (LXX), and the "Samaritan Pentateuch" (SP). Scholars believe that the books in these three texts are from pre–Christian times. Translations were made from the oldest available manuscripts, most of them medieval, in the belief that these late documents were accurate copies of far more ancient texts.

The Masoretic Text

  Almost all modern English translations of the Old Testament are based on a single manuscript, the Leningrad Codex, which was copied in 1008 AD and is our earliest complete copy of the Masoretic (or Rabbinic) Text of the Hebrew Bible. The Leningrad Codex is used by most biblical scholars in its published edition, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (or the earlier Biblia Hebraica).

  Another important manuscript is the Aleppo Codex, which forms the basis of a new edition of the Hebrew Bible currently being produced at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This manuscript was copied in about 925 AD and is thus earlier than the Leningrad Codex; however, a substantial part has been lost, which means that for some books the Hebrew University project must rely on the Leningrad Codex and other Hebrew manuscripts.

  Both the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex are part of what is known as the "Masoretic Text." This term is quite complicated since it covers many manuscripts rather than a single one; "Masoretic Group" or "Masoretic Family" would thus be a more accurate name. Masoretic manuscripts including the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex contain the books of the Hebrew Bible in the threefold arrangement that was developed by the Rabbis and is found in modern Jewish Bibles: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (though the specific order of books sometimes varies between manuscripts).

  This form of the Old Testament text now found in the Masoretic Text grew and was finalized in three periods or stages.

  The first stage originated among Babylonian Jews, the Pharisees, or "temple circles" and ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (or perhaps with the end of the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 AD).

  The second stage extended from the destruction of the Temple until the eighth century AD and was characterized by more and more textual consistency as rabbinic scholars sought to standardize the text of the Hebrew Bible.

  The third stage extended from the eighth century until the end of the Middle Ages and was characterized by almost complete textual uniformity. During this period, a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes set out to produce a standard text of the Hebrew Bible, one that in their eyes would be true to the Scriptures revealed by God in ancient times. Since the ancient text consisted only of Hebrew consonants without any vowels, many readings were open to diverse meanings (compare dg in English, which could be dig, dog, or dug, depending on which vowel is used). The Masoretes' solution was to add vowels, accents, and Masoretic notes, which required fixed meanings for groups of consonants (for example, only dig, not dog or dug). As a result, the Masoretic Text became almost completely standardized during this time. It is this standardized form of the Hebrew Bible that is found in the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex, and upon which the Old Testaments of most English Bibles are based.

The Septuagint

  The Septuagint is the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, translated by a number of different Jewish scholars over the course of the third, second, and first centuries BC. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint, which are very fragmentary, include John Rylands Papyrus 458 (second century BC) and Papyrus Fouad 266 (about 100 BC). Complete (or almost complete) manuscripts exist as well: Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century), Codex Vaticanus (fourth century), and Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century).

  But why was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures necessary? Following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the late fourth century BC, Greek was increasingly used in the Ancient Near East, including Palestine, and numerous Jews and other peoples emigrated to lands such as Egypt. Eventually, more and more Jews adopted Greek as their first language and became less and less fluent in Hebrew. For such Hellenized Jews to maintain and understand their religion, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek became increasingly necessary.

  The translation was begun in the third century BC in Alexandria (Egypt), one of the centers of Hellenistic Judaism. According to a delightful legend in the Letter of Aristeas, seventy–two scholars, six from each of the twelve Israelite tribes, were brought from Jerusalem to translate the Pentateuch into Greek during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–247 BC). The precise number of scholars was rounded off to seventy, from which comes the term Septuagint (meaning "seventy" in Latin). Eventually, the "Septuagint" grew to embrace Greek translations of all the books of the Hebrew Bible, translations of some books excluded from the Hebrew Bible, and even a few sacred Jewish books originally composed in Greek.

  The Septuagint is important for several reasons. First, almost all the books it contains were translated from an earlier Hebrew or Aramaic form (though a few books, such as 2 Maccabees, were originally composed in Greek). This means that the Septuagint gives readers a window on an ancient Hebrew form of the Old Testament that is earlier than the time of Jesus. Second, the Septuagint sometimes offers striking evidence of different ancient forms of biblical books (for example, Jeremiah is about 13 percent shorter in the Greek than in the Masoretic Text) as well as different ancient readings in specific passages. Third, because the Septuagint was the Bible of Hellenistic Judaism, it offers important insights into how Greek–speaking Jews used and understood Scripture. Fourth, since the Septuagint is quoted in the New Testament and was used by early Christian authors, it constitutes the Bible of the early church and helps to explain early Christian exegesis of Scripture. Finally, the Septuagint contains the books of the Old Testament in the fourfold arrangement that is found in modern Christian Bibles: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetical Books, and Prophets (though the specific order of books sometimes varies between Septuagint manuscripts). It is from the Septuagint that most modern Bibles have adopted this grouping and that Catholic Bibles have included the deuterocanonical books (or Apocrypha).

The Samaritan Pentateuch

  The third ancient Bible is known as the Samaritan Pentateuch; as its name implies, it contains only the five Books of Moses. The Samaritan Pentateuch was finalized as a collection before the Christian era and has been used by the Samaritans, a small branch of Judaism, ever since. A small but active Samaritan community still exists, using this Bible and practicing its own customs and ceremonies.


  Translations of the Psalter, Gospels and other portions of the Scriptures were made into Anglo–Saxon as early as the eighth century, and into English of the thirteenth century. These translations had no traceable effect on the English Bible.

  WYCLIF'S VERSION (1380).   Wyclif, with some of his followers, translated the entire Bible into English from the Latin Vulgate. Being accomplished before the days of printing, it existed only in Manuscript form up until 1848 or 1850, when it was published in type.

  TINDALE'S NEW TESTAMENT (1525).   William Tindale began the publication of his translation of the New Testament in Cologne in 1525. Being compelled to flee, he finished the publication in Worms. Three thousand copies of quarto size were printed. These Testaments began to reach England in 1526 and were burned by order of the bishops. In making his translation, Tindale used the Greek Testament of Erasmus (1519), the German Testament of Luther (1523), and the Latin Vulgate.

  TINDALE'S PENTATEUCH (1530).   Tindale's life being in danger at Worms, he went to Marburg, in Hesse where he published his translation of the Pentateuch into English in 1530. It was a thick, small octavo of 768 pages, the type page measuring 5 inches by 2½. He used a Hebrew text as his original, and Luther and the Vulgate as aids.

  TINDALE'S NEW TESTAMENT (1534).   Tindale's New Testament, carefully revised throughout by the translator, was printed at Antwerp in 1534. The work is a noble example of the translator's learning and care, and may be regarded as the true primary version of the English New Testament.

  COVERDALE'S BIBLE (1535).   Miles Coverdale translated the Bible from the Zurich (Swiss–German) Bible and the Latin version of Pagninus. It was probably printed and published in Zurich. This was the first version of the entire Bible published in English.

  MATTHEW'S BIBLE (1537).   This was made up of Tindale's Pentateuch and New Testament, and completed from Coverdale for the rest of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, the whole edited by John Rogers. It was probably printed at Antwerp, but was published in London with the license of King Henry VIII., thus becoming the first "authorized version".

  TAVERNER'S BIBLE (1539).   This was simply an edition of Matthew's Bible, edited by Taverner.

  THE GREAT BIBLE (1539).   This was a new edition of Matthew's Bible, revised and compared with the Hebrew by Coverdale, and published in England under the sanction of Thomas Cromwell in 1539. Archbishop Cranmer wrote a prologue to the second of the seven editions through which it passed.

  THE GENEVA BIBLE (1560).   Two years after the accession of Elizabeth an entirely new edition of the Bible was printed at Geneva. Three men out of a company of English refugees and reformers at Geneva began this work. Other men of that Christian church then under the care of John Knox found the money for it. The three men began work in January, 1558, and finished it in April, 1560. This was the most scholarly English Bible that had yet appeared. It was a handy size and of clear Roman type. It became for a period of seventy–five years the Bible of the English people. Because of the rendering in Genesis 3:7, it became known as the "Breeches" Bible.

  THE BISHOPS' BIBLE (1568).   The rapid popularity of the Geneva Bible was not acceptable to Elizabeth and her bishops, who did not sympathize with Genevan church views and polity. Therefore, a revision of the Great Bible was made, at the suggestion of Archbishop Parker, by fifteen theologians, eight of whom were bishops. A second edition of the Bishops' Bible appeared in 1572.

  REIMS NEW TESTAMENT (1582).   This translation was made from the Latin Vulgate, and was published in 1583 at Reims. At the same time and place the New Testament portion of the Douay or Roman Catholic version, appeared.

  AUTHORIZED VERSION (1611).   There is no evidence that this version was authorized in any special way. However, the title page carries the words "Appointed to be read in Churches." If it was authorized, even by order of council, no record survived because the Privy Council registers from 1600 to 1613 were destroyed by fire in January 1619. It won its place, under royal and ecclesiastical patronage, by its merits. The work had its inception at Hampton Court Conference in 1604, and was promoted by James I., who approved a list of fifty–four scholars to be assigned to the undertaking. Of these but forty–seven appear to have taken part. These revisers were grouped into six companies, two meeting at Westminster, two at Oxford, and two at Cambridge. Genesis to 2 Kings and Romans to Jude were done at Westminster; 1 Chronicles to Ecclesiastes and the Apocrypha at Cambridge; Isaiah to Malachi, and the Gospels, Acts and Revelation at Oxford.

  There were fifteen regulations laid down for the guidance of the revisers, the two main ones being that the Bishops' Bible was to be followed and as little altered as the truth of the original permitted; second, that new translations were to be used only when they agreed better with the text than the Bishops' Bible, Tindale's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, Whitechurch's, Genevan. The central thought was "not to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better." The Authorized Version was, therefore, not a new translation, but a thorough and scholarly revision of an already good version. The revisers used the texts of Beza's Latin and Greek Testaments of 1598, and were largely influenced by the Geneva Bible of 1560 and the Reim's New Testament of 1582.

  THE REVISED VERSION (1881–85).   The King James or Authorized Version stood practically untouched for 270 years. True, many small changes had been introduced into the text by successive printers, but no authoritative revision had taken place. It began to be felt that revision was needed for three leading reasons:  (1.) Many weak points had become evident in the Authorized Version of the New Testament through careful study of the Greek Manuscripts.  (2.) Because in the course of three centuries many words and phrases had become obsolete or changed their meanings.  (3.) Because Greek and Hebrew scholarship had developed to a higher degree than in the seventeenth century. Accordingly, in 1870, the English Houses of Convocation appointed two bodies of revisers, consisting of twenty–five for the Old Testament and twenty–five for the New. Among other rules adopted for their guidance, they were to introduce as few changes as possible into the Authorized Version text; adopt no text except the evidence in favor of it greatly preponderated; make or retain no change in the text on final revision except two–thirds of those present approved.

  Two similar companies of American scholars cooperated in the work. The Revised New Testament was issued in 1881, and the Revised Bible in 1885. The work as completed is a decidedly forward step in English Biblical scholarship. In the Old Testament, especially in the poetry and prophecies, many meanings are made clear which were otherwise obscure. In the New Testament, especially in the Epistles, texts which were provocative of doubt or clouded in expression have been rendered luminous and satisfactory. Yet with all the aid afforded by the Revised Version to the Bible reader and student, the Authorized Version still retains its wonted place in the popular heart.

  To be more explicit as to the aim of the revisers, they strove to obtain a text which comported better with early Manuscripts, with ancient versions, and with quotations from the Fathers, many of which might be regarded in the light of discoveries since the establishment of the Authorized Version text, and all of which were deemed a proper subject for modification in view of the progress made in Biblical learning and interpretation during a period of nearly three centuries of research and study. But just here it must be noted that there was a great difference between the Old and New Testaments with respect to the aim of the revisers. The Massoretic Manuscript of the Old Testament, which is of no very great antiquity, has been so unanimously accepted as the only authoritative basis, that little room was left to the revisers for originality or innovation. Yet they have clarified many points hitherto obscure or debatable.

  As an instance, the word "grove" in Judges 3:7; 6:25, and elsewhere, is returned to its original, Asherah, Asherim or Asheroth, all significant of an actual idol or idols, and of place or places of worship. So in Leviticus 16 the vague word "scapegoat" is left to its original, "goat for Azazel." In the rendition of technical terms greater uniformity has been introduced. The same must be said of the names of persons and places, which were a variant and confusing in the Authorized Version. As to the names of plants, animals and precious stones, the revisers have rendered a most valuable service in the line of greater accuracy in translation. Even where that two–third agreement necessary to effect a change of the Authorized Version reading was wanting, they have, by their marginal suggestions, put the reader on the track of thoughts, names and terms far more accurate and satisfactory than those previously in use.

  While the changes above indicated are chiefly those of language, others, relating to forms, are interesting and important. The old divisions of chapters and verses are ignored for the sake of textual contiguity and straightforward reading. Yet by use of the old verse figures on the margins the ancient convenience of reference is preserved. The books are divided into paragraphs suited to the subjects under treatment, and where the change of subject is entire the fact is noted by a wide space between the lines. The difference between the prose and poetical texts is clearly defined by setting the latter forth according to the forms used in modern poetry. The New Testament quotations from the prophetical books are given in lines. The usual headings to chapters are omitted, as involving questions of interpretation beyond the design of the revisers. Only such titles are retained as already existed in the Hebrew, such as are found in some of the Psalms, the new translations of which, together with the marginal references, are full of interest and instruction. The entire Book of Psalms is subdivided into five books or collections corresponding to the ancient arrangement of the Hebrew Psalter.

  Another interesting and satisfying feature of the Revised Version text is the obliteration of mistranslations in so far as the same was possible and necessary. This feature is naturally more noticeable in the New than in the Old Testament, for the reason that the learning and discoveries which have affected original texts have been deeper and more frequent along the line of the Greek than the Hebrew. The instances are manifold, especially in the New Testament, where evident mistranslations have been corrected, where confusing words and expressions have been rendered clear, and where meaningless readings have been given force and vigor. A few samples will suffice to show what the revisers have accomplished by means of this class of improvement. In Luke 23:15 occurs the expression "for I sent you to him." This expression was not only a mistranslation but was without meaning till the revisers corrected it so as to read "for he sent him back unto us." This reading infuses new life and pith in Pilate's address to the priests and rulers, for why should he condemn Jesus when even Herod had found no fault in him, but had "sent him back unto us" as one not worthy to suffer condemnation and death.

  So, in Acts 26:28, the Authorized Version reading, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" takes on a new light and significance in the corrected rendering of the Revised Version, "With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian." Once more, in Acts 27:14, the Authorized Version rendering is, "But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon." This has given rise to both geographic and meteorological confusion, which the Revised Version rendering corrects—"But after no long time there beat down from it a tempestuous wind called Euraquilo." This presents clearly the actual phenomenon of that stormy northeast wind of the Levant which passes over the island of Crete, gathering strength among its heights and chasms, and beating down from it upon the shipping that may happen to be skirting its shores or resting in its havens. But it is needless to multiply these instances of clearer and better renderings. However numerous they may be, and whatever excellent a purpose they may serve the reader and student, it can be said of them all that they disturb none of the doctrines that have found source and support in the old version of either Testament.

  APOCRYPHA (1895).   The Apocrypha: translated out of the Greek and Latin tongues: being the version set forth A.D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised A.D. 1894. Oxford: University Press, 1895.

  The Preface states, "Considerable attention was paid to the text; but the materials available for correcting it were but scanty." The revisers, however, were able to use Professor Bensly's reconstruction of the Latin text of 2 Esdras, and to incorporate the 'missing fragment,' ch. vii, 36–105. The last portion of the revision of King James' version, begun in 1870. The preface describes how the work was divided between three small committees, formed from the New Testament Company in 1879, and a fourth committee chosen from the Old Testament Company in 1884. The Americans took no part in the revision of the Apocrypha. The work was completed in 1894, and published early in 1895.

References:   Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, Harper–S.F.
Smith's Bible Dictionary, Rev. Ed.

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