Monday, April 21, 2008

The translations of the Bible

The Holy Bible – Part 3 – Bible Translations

4/20/2008 4:47:59 PM
I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God. I want to know one thing: the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book. – John Wesley

Before we begin today’s study, please bow your heart before the Lord…

Father, thank you for your loving grace which you so freely give to each of us. We ask that you would fill us with your Holy Spirit, give us understanding of your Word, and help us to hide your Word within our hearts. We ask this in Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.


It is believed that following the return of the Israelites from their captivity in Babylon, Ezra, described as priest and scribe (Ne 8:9), compiled the scrolls of the Old Testament and continued the tradition of the Jews of keeping and copying their Holy writings for future generations. It is obvious that they had kept their Scriptures during the 70 years of exile from the fact that upon their return to Israel the reading of the Law, as well as their feasts, were reinstated nationally.

Between 285 – 250 BC the Hebrew Bible (Tenach) was translated into Greek by Jewish scholars in the cultural center of Alexandria, Egypt. The translation became known as the Septuagint, a fancy word for 70, which is a reference to the tradition that 70 or 72 men performed the translation.

The reason for this translation was that at this time in history Hebrew, as well as other native languages, were being replaced with Greek and the only ones who would have spoken, read and written Hebrew were the priests. Following Alexander's conquest of much of the ‘known world,’ Koine Greek quickly became the universal language.

This translation is one of the most important throughout history and documents the existence of the Bible and the prophecies that would be fulfilled. Some scholars have tried to late date much of the Hebrew Scriptures to exclude the power of fulfilled prophecy and regulate the Bible to nothing more then poetry and possibly some history. The importance of this translation can not be overstated as it is the one cited by the New Testament authors and by Jesus Christ Himself!

Once the New Testament was written the real work of translation began in earnest. Even though Greek had become the universal language the Roman Empire had conquered the areas formerly held by the Greeks and continued to expand. There were many areas that had retained their native tongue as well as newly conquered lands and they wanted to read God’s Word in their own languages.

Writing and Major Translations/Revisions of the Bible

1400 – 400 BC: All the original Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts, which make Up the 39 Books of the Old Testament, are completed.

285 – 250 BC: The Greek Septuagint translation is accomplished in Alexandria, Egypt. The 39 books of the Tenach, as well as 14 Apocrypha books, are translated from the Hebrew into Koine Greek.

100 BC – 100 AD: The Old Testament is translated into Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, directly from the Hebrew.

40-95 AD: All original Greek manuscripts, which make Up the 27 Books of the New Testament, were written.

90 AD: Jewish elders, during the Council of Yavne, also known as the Council of Jamnia, defined a final Hebrew Biblical canon.

100-300 AD: Syriac was one of the first translations of the New Testament.

200-300 AD: Coptic translations are produced. There is much debate and disagreement between scholars as to the date of these translations but most agree that they were in use by the fourth century.

350-380 AD: A Western Gothic bishop, Wulfila, translated the Greek Bible into Gothic.

382-405 AD: Commissioned by Pope Damasus I, Jorome produced a Latin translation of the Bible. Jorome relied mainly on the Hebrew Tanakh for the Old Testament and revised a current Latin New Testament version using the oldest Greek manuscripts known to him. This translation is called the Vulgate from the Latin versio vulgate, which means the published translation. The Vulgate contains 53 books of the Old Testament (39 plus 14 Apocrypha) and the 27 New Testament books. The Vulgate became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

411-434 AD: In 406 AD St. Mesrob invented a new alphabet, for the Armenians, which was suited for the complex sounds of these peoples native tongue. In 411 AD several of his students began the task of translating the Bible into Armenian.

500 AD: It is believed by this time in history the Scriptures had been translated into over 500 different languages!

600 AD: Scripture translations in the Western world, for the most part, are abruptly stopped by the power of the Roman Catholic Church and their instance that the Scriptures only be written and transmitted in Latin. All other translations were outlawed and destroyed and anyone who disobeyed was put to death. This, we believe, extended the “Dark Ages” for hundreds of years!

864 – 865 AD: St. Cyril and St. Mathodius, two missionary brothers to the Slavs, invented the Glagolitic alphabet to transcribe the Old Church Slavonic language. St. Cyril is credited with the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet, based on the Glagolitic, and the Scriptures were translated into this language.

1000 AD: Early Anglo-Saxon translations of the New Testament are produced.

1384 AD: Relying solely on Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, Wycliffe produces a hand-written English translation of the entire Bible (all 80 books of the Vulgate).

1455 AD: Gutenberg invents the printing press and books can now be mass-produced. The first book produced? The Bible (in Latin).

1516 AD: Erasmus produces a Greek/Latin parallel of the New Testament.

1522 AD: Martin Luther translates the New Testament into German.

1526 AD: William Tyndale translates the New Testament into English from the original Greek language.

1530 - 1534 AD: William Tyndale completes the translation of the Torah and his translations of Johah and the New Testament are printed. In 1535 William Tyndale was tried for heresy and treason, found guilty and in 1536 strangled and burnt at the stake all for printing the scriptures in English.

1535 AD: The first complete Bible in English, the Myles Coverdale’s Bible, is printed including the 14 books of the Apocrypha.

1537 AD: The second complete English Bible, “Matthews Bible” from John Thomas Matthew Rogers was printed and also included the Apocrypha.

1539 – 1540 AD: The “Great Bible” was the first authorized (not illegal) English Bible. Printed on cotton linen sheets, as opposed to wood-pulp paper, is still in excellent shape today. This Bible was authorized by King Henry VIII (founder of the Church of England or the Anglican Church) to usurp the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope’s power. It is also referred to as “Cranmer’s Bible” as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer wrote the preface. The term “Great Bible” comes from the books great size and also included the Apocrypha.

1560 AD: The Geneva Bible, which was the first English Bible to include numbered verses, also included the Apocrypha.

1568 AD: The “Bishops’ Bible” is a revision of the “Great Bible” by bishops of the Church of England under the direction of Bishop Mathew Parker, Queen Elizabeth’s Archbishop.

1582 AD: The Latin Vulgate New Testament is published in English for Catholics.

1609 AD: The complete Douay-Rheims Bible is translated from the Vulgate and is published making the first complete Catholic Bible (80 books including the Apocrypha).

1611 AD: The King James Bible is produced. Originally the King James Bible included the Apocrypha making it 80 books instead of the current 66 which was established in 1885. A brief history of the King James Bible can be found here.

1782 AD: The first English language Bible without the Apocrypha was the Aitken’s Bible. Based on the King James Bible, produced by Robert Aitken and printed in America. A smaller 6” x 4” version, known as “The Bible of the Revolution” was carried by many soldiers during the Revolutionary war.

1791 AD: The first “Family Bible” and first “Illustrated Bible” are printed in America. Both are King James versions by Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas, respectively.

1808 AD: Jane Aitken, daughter of Robert Aitken, is the first woman to print a Bible.

1831 – 1833 AD: Noah Webster, called "America's Schoolmaster" for his famous dictionary, revised the King James Bible. As the Bible was the Book used by educators in schools, Webster felt that an updated version was needed.

1841 AD: The first English Hexapla New Testament is printed. This Bible lists six of the most important English translations in parallel columns. The original Greek is at the top of the page and this Bible includes a preface detailing how each translation from 1380 to 1611 assisted in the following translations.

1846 AD: Another King James version was the Illuminated Bible enacted by Congress in 1843 and printed by Harper & Brothers of New York. It has been estimated that less then 100 of these Bibles are still in existence today. They were lavishly illustrated and a sample page can be seen here.

1870 – 1885 AD: The Church of England decided to make a revision of the King James Bible. Teams of scholars were appointed and the first major English revision of the King James Bible, the “Revised Version,” was produced.

1901 AD: Due to the revised King James Bible in England, which was oriented for the British using their spelling and figures of speech, the first major American revision of the King James Bible, the “American Standard Version,” is produced in America.

1929 – 1952 AD: In 1929 the World Council of Churches began work on a revision of the American Standard Version. Their work was based on the latest scholarly Greek texts and their New Testament was published in 1946 and the Old Testament in 1952. This text is known as the Revised Standard Version (RSV).

1946 – 1970 AD: The Church of Scotland, under the supervision of Dr. C. H. Dodd began work using the latest Biblical research, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament was published in 1961 and the Old Testament in 1970.

1956 – 1971 AD: Kenneth Taylor produced the entire Bible in “everyday” language, or a paraphrase. The New Testament was published in 1956 and the Old Testament in 1971. While this Bible is a paraphrase and not as accurate as other translations it has opened up the Scriptures to an entire generation of Americans as well as English speaking peoples around the world.

1966 AD: The Roman Catholic Church published the Jerusalem Bible. This translation is based on the original languages and has become popular with both Catholics and Protestants. A revision, the “New Jerusalem Bible” was published in 1986.

1966 – 1976 AD: The American Bible Society produced the “Good News Bible.” This is a readable and accurate translation into everyday American speech and is based on a careful study of linguistics. This type of translation is used as a pattern for translations into many other languages.

1971 AD: A modern word for word English translation, the “New American Standard Bible,” (NASB) is produced.

1973 AD: In the past 35 years many Christians have become “NIV positive.” The New International Version (NIV) is published as a modern and accurate phrase for phrase English Translation.

1982 AD: The King James Bible is revised and published as a modern English version which maintains the original style. The NKJV becomes popular with many evangacal churches.

1989 AD: The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is produced responding to the need for a readable and accurate text with “gender-inclusive” language.

The breaking with the Roman Catholic Church by England’s Henry VIII and the Reformation gave rise to many Bible translations throughout Europe. Between 1500 and 1700 most countries of Western Europe received translations in their own languages.

A brief history of the Bible in English from William Tyndale Gallery can be found here.

The Best Translation

You must have known that we would have to add our two cents to the on going debate as to which translation is best. As far as we are concerned all translations have their pluses and minuses and ALL should be used in the study of the Word. One should familiarize themselves with the problems of each translation and there is a wealth of knowledge to be found on this subject.

I recall as a child opening that big Book my parents kept and trying to read and understand it. I could not get past a few verses before realizing this was not something I would be attempting to read in the future. As a young adult and new Christian the Living Bible was a true joy to read and I took a pocket New Testament to work with me and read it every chance I had.

It really doesn’t matter what translation, version or paraphrase you use. The Gospel message is what is truly important and they all present that message well.

We’ll continue our study at a later time with Biblical archaeology, the canon, the Apocrypha and how to study the Bible.

This week we’re including a short quiz on the Bible. The answers appear at the bottom of this post. Let’s see how well you know the Good Book.

What is the longest book in the Bible?
What is the longest chapter in the Bible?
What is the longest verse in the Bible?
What is the shortest book in the Bible?
What is the shortest chapter in the Bible?
What is the shortest verse in the Bible?
Who was the oldest man in the Bible?
What page in the Bible can be torn out and thrown away?

Until next week be like the Bereans and study the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).

Glory to our Lord Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah)!

The Holy Bible
Halley’s Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley
Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, Ephraim Stern
Old Testament Survey, W.S. Lasor, David Hubbard & Frederic Bush
Cosmic Codes – Hidden Messages from the Edge of Eternity, Chuck Missler
Archaeology and the Old Testament World, John Gray
The Bible as History, Werner Keller
The Bible, Max Anders
Every Prophecy of the Bible, John F. Walvoord
Strong's Concordance, Dr. James Strong
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger & William White, Jr.
Fascinating Bible Facts, David M. Howard, Jr., Ph.D.
Bible Almanac, Anna Trimiew
BELIEVE Religious Information Source:
The Unbound Bible:

Quiz Answers

Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible. It may not have the most chapters but does contain the most words. The book with the most chapters is Psalms.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter with 176 verses. It is an acrostic poem with each group of eight verses beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 is a praise of the Torah (the Law) and each verse refers to God’s Word in some way.
Esther 8:9 is the longest verse in the Bible containing 85 words in the NRSV and 43 words in the Hebrew. This verse tells of Mordechai, Esther’s adoptive father, issuing an edict. For a real challenge find the Name of God in the book of Esther.*
3 John is the shortest book in the Bible. 2 John is a close second with 19 more words. There are five books in the Bible that are only one chapter long, 3 John, 2 John, Philemon, Jude and Obadiah.
Psalm 117 contains the shortest chapter in the Bible. This wonderful Psalm exhorts us to praise God for his goodness and faithfulness.
John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” is the shortest verse in the Bible. Even though Jesus would shortly raise Lazarus from the dead He still wept over the grief those around Him were experiencing.
Methuselah at 969 years of age upon his death. Okay smarty pants, how is it that Methuselah died before his dad?**
Yes, there is a page in almost all Bibles produced today that can be discarded, the blank page between the Old and New Testaments as the Bible is ONE BOOK!

* The book of Esther does not contain the Name of God – except in an acrostic in the original Hebrew.

** Who was Methuselah’s dad? Enoch, who walked with God and was taken to heaven - Gen 5:24. Both Enoch and the prophet Elijah were both taken to heaven before death. Could these two be the two “witnesses” who are to come in the “latterdays” mentioned in Revelation 11:3-12?

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