Want to get an idea of what typically happens when I sit down to write a blog post? I receive ideas from several sources — whether it be a podcast, an article I’ve read, or a discussion with fellow Christians — but they all drive me to the Bible to see what God has to say on any given subject. Such was the case, yesterday, when I found myself in a discussion with my husband about the importance of Luke 10:19, and how it pertains to our Kingdom work.
When I began to research the different words used and their meanings in the original context of the Biblical writers, I went to my trusty Strong’s Concordance. And that’s when my focus took a different direction. I was fascinated with what I found and how it affected my theology, but I was also curious about why the different versions of the Bible used such different words to express the context of the verse. Consequently, it was important to know what version of the Bible my Strong’s Concordance is based on, since it did not reference the use of the word “authority” for Luke 10:19, but rather, “power”. Since I now know that Strong’s Concordance is an index of every word in the King James version of the Bible, it was interesting to discover new insights to Luke 10:19, and how the use of “power” instead of “authority” affects my theology.
I hope you’re not getting bored! I promise you this is going to get fascinating real quick! Because I am always focused on authentic nterpretation of the Bible, I began to research history to find out just how the ancient manuscripts were first interpreted; how we ended up with our modern versions of the Bible; and just how reliable are they? Come along for the ride!
Over 3400 years ago (1400 B.C.), the first Word of God was written by God, Himself. He wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets and delivered them to Moses. It would be 900 years later (500 B.C.) that all the original Hebrew manuscripts of the 39 Books of the Old Testament were completed. In 200 B.C., as the Greek Empire is being eclipsed by the emerging Roman Empire, the Old Testament (along with 14 Books of the Apochrypha) are translated into the Greek Septuagint (meaning “70” for the number of scholars who translated the Hebrew into Greek). It wouldn’t be until the 1st Century A.D. that all the original Greek manuscripts that make up the 27 Books of the New Testament would be completed.
In 315 A.D. the Bishop of Alexandria recognized the 27 Books of the New Testament which are today’s Canon of Scripture. Sixty-seven years later, in 382 A.D., Jerome produced his Latin Vulgate manuscripts, which are actually quite controversial for his paraphrastic style (meaning he translated in the vernacular, rather than a more critical translation of the Hebrew text. For the next 1,000 years of the Dark & Middle Ages, the Word was trapped in only Latin.
Then, in 1384, along came John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, scholar, and theologian. Wycliffe was well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church, which he believed to be contrary to the Bible. With the help of his followers and many other faithful scribes, Wycliffe produced dozens of English language manuscript copies of the Scriptures. They were translated out of the Latin Vulgate, which was the only source text available to Wycliffe. The Pope was so infuriated by his teachings and his translation of the Bible into English, that 44 years after Wycliffe had died, he ordered his bones to be dug-up, crushed, and scattered in the river!
One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Hus, actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman Church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire.
But it was the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the 1450’s that would eventually allow the Bible [and other books] to be effectively produced in large quantities in a short period of time. This would become essential to the success of the Reformation.
In the 1490’s another Oxford professor, and the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8th, Thomas Linacre, decided to learn Greek. After reading the Gospels in Greek, and comparing it to the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.” The Latin had become so corrupt that it no longer even preserved the message of the Gospel… yet the Church still threatened to kill anyone who read the scripture in any language other than Latin… though Latin was not an original language of the scriptures.
Other faithful men like Oxford professor John Colet (1496) and the great scholar Erasmus (1516) translated the Bible from the more accurate and reliable Greek and published new versions of the Bible in English (Colet) and a Greek-Latin parallel Bible (Erasmus). The 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus further focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate had become, and how important it was to go back and use the original Greek (New Testament) and original Hebrew (Old Testament) languages to maintain accuracy… and to translate them faithfully into the languages of the common people, whether that be English, German, or any other language.
As history progresses, we see men like William Tyndale, who was the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language; and Martin Luther, who published a German Pentateuch in 1523, and another edition of the German New Testament in 1529. In the 1530’s he would go on to publish the entire Bible in German. Tyndale had been forced to flee England because of the wide-spread rumor that his English New Testament project was underway, causing inquisitors and bounty hunters to be constantly on Tyndale’s trail to arrest him and prevent his project. God foiled their plans, and in 1525-1526 the Tyndale New Testament became the first printed edition of the scripture in the English language.
While the Tyndale Bibles were burned as soon as the Bishop could confiscate them, copies trickled through, and actually ended up in the bedroom of King Henry VIII. The more the King and Bishop resisted its distribution, the more fascinated the public at large became. The church declared it contained thousands of errors as they torched hundreds of New Testaments confiscated by the clergy, while in fact, they burned them because they could find no errors at all. One risked death by burning if caught in mere possession of Tyndale’s forbidden books.
Today, there are only two known copies left of Tyndale’s 1525-26 First Edition. Any copies printed prior to 1570 are extremely valuable. Tyndale’s flight was an inspiration to freedom-loving Englishmen who drew courage from the 11 years that he was hunted. In the end, Tyndale was caught: betrayed by an Englishman that he had befriended. Tyndale was incarcerated for 500 days before he was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. Tyndale’s last words were, “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. This prayer would be answered just three years later in 1539, when King Henry VIII finally allowed, and even funded, the printing of an English Bible known as the “Great Bible”. But before that could happen…
In 1535, Myles Coverdale printed the first complete Bible in the English language, making use of Luther’s German text and the Latin as sources. Thus, the first complete English Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible. But the English Bible wasn’t out of danger yet. History would see the reigns of King Henry VIII and the establishment of the Anglican Church, along with the reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary, who was the next obstacle to the printing of the Bible in English. She was possessed in her quest to return England to the Roman Church. In 1555, John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers (a disciple of Tyndales’s) and Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury) were both burned at the stake. Mary went on to burn Reformers at the stake by the hundreds for the “crime” of being a Protestant.
The Protestant exiles would congregate in Geneva, Switzerland under the protection of John Calvin and John Knox, both leaders of the Protestant Reformation. It was there that the Church of Geneva determined to produce a Bible that would educate their families while they continued in exile. The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages would be easier. Every chapter was also accompanied by extensive marginal notes and references so thorough and complete that the Geneva Bible is also considered the first English “Study Bible”.
By the 1580’s, the Roman Catholic Church saw that it had lost the battle to suppress the will of God: that His Holy Word be available in the English language. In 1582, the Church of Rome surrendered their fight for “Latin only” and decided that if the Bible was to be available in English, they would at least have an official Roman Catholic English translation. And so, using the corrupt and inaccurate Latin Vulgate as the only source text, they went on to publish an English Bible with all the distortions and corruptions that Erasmus had revealed and warned of 75 years earlier. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, it was known as the Rheims New Testament. The Douay Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Douay. The combined product is commonly referred to as the “Douay/Rheims” Version.
In the early 16oo’s, the “translation to end all translations” (for a while at least) was the result of the combined effort of about fifty scholars. They took into consideration: The Tyndale New Testament, The Coverdale Bible, The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament. The great revision of the Bishop’s Bible had begun. From 1605 to 1606 the scholars engaged in private research. From 1607 to 1609 the work was assembled. In 1610 the work went to press, and in 1611 the first of the huge (16 inch tall) pulpit folios known today as “The 1611 King James Bible” came off the printing press.
|The 1611 King James Bible|
The King James Bible turned out to be an excellent and accurate translation, and it became the most printed book in the history of the world, and the only book with one billion copies in print. In fact, for over 250 years…until the appearance of the English Revised Version of 1881-1885, the King James Version reigned without much of a rival. The King James Bible has the distinction of being the first English language Bible to be printed in America.
But here is another fascinating set of facts … Up until the 1880’s every Protestant Bible (not just Catholic Bibles) had 80 books, not 66! The inter-testamental books written hundreds of years before Christ called “The Apocrypha” were part of virtually every printing of the Tyndale-Matthews Bible, the Great Bible, the Bishops Bible, the Protestant Geneva Bible, and the King James Bible until their removal in the 1880’s! The original 1611 King James contained the Apocrypha, and King James threatened anyone who dared to print the Bible without the Apocrypha with heavy fines and a year in jail. Only for the last 120 years has the Protestant Church rejected these books, and removed them from their Bibles. This has left most modern-day Christians believing the popular myth that there is something “Roman Catholic” about the Apocrypha. There is, however, no truth in that myth, and no widely-accepted reason for the removal of the Apocrypha in the 1880’s has ever been officially issued by a mainline Protestant denomination.
The 20th Century finds several new versions of the Bible coming into print — the American Standard Version in 1901; and it wasn’t until 1971 that it underwent a revision to become the New American Standard Version. This NASB version is considered by nearly all evangelical Christian scholars and translators today, to be the most accurate, word-for-word translation of the original Greek and Hebrew scriptures into the modern English language that has ever been produced. It remains the most popular version among theologians, professors, scholars, and seminary students today. Some, however, have taken issue with it because it is so direct and literal a translation (focused on accuracy), that it does not flow as easily in conversational English. (For me, the accuracy issue is the most fundamental; I don’t demand that my Bible be an “easy read”).
The answer to the NASB Bible was the New International Version (NIV) which was designed not for “word-for-word” accuracy, but rather, for “phrase-for-phrase” accuracy, and ease of reading even at a Junior High-School reading level. It was meant to appeal to a broader (and in some instances less-educated) cross-section of the general public. But here is my problem with the NIV: there are several instances when the deity of Jesus is removed; for instance 1 Corinthians 15:47 reads, the second man is The Lord from heaven. The NIV reads, the second man is from heaven. The NIV lowers Christ from being God’s SON and CHILD, to merely God’s SERVANT. (All believers are God’s servants). This is evident in Acts 3:13 … hath glorified His Son Jesus (KJV) versus has glorified his servant Jesus (NIV). There are many more changes that concern me, and believe me, I was firmly in the NIV camp for years, it being the first Bible that I seriously studied… but no more. And I caution you about the latest version of the NIV, called Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which seeks to remove all gender-specific references in the Bible whenever possible!
As we look at the modern translations, the last few years have seen the advent of Study Bibles, some better than others. But here is what I want us all to concentrate on … As Christians, it is important for us to make wise decisions on which versions of the Bible that we depend upon to receive the best translation of God’s Word. And, yes, our critics will no doubt point to the various translation errors and say that is why we cannot trust the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. But the Word of God as revealed to man has remained unchanged from generation to generation, no matter how hard the Enemy has tried to corrupt it. History shows us that God has always used men who were willing to die to see that His Word stayed true and authentic. He has preserved His Word as a means to know Him and to worship Him. And just as He inspired the original writers to represent Him accurately, He can inspire us, who are sincerely seeking Him, to receive His true revelation. No matter what version of the Bible you are reading, I recommend that you compare and contrast versions in your never-ending journey to know the God we serve. The journey His Word has taken to get to us in the 21st Century is nothing less than miraculous. It has survived for over 3400 years, and neither man nor devil has been able to destroy it. May it forever be a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path!
Thank you to Greatsite.com for providing the historical facts of the Bible’s timeline. You can read a more detailed history of the facts I’ve given you, by clicking this link.
If you are interested to know what versions of the Bible I consult in my personal study, I refer to the King James Bible, the Greek New Testament (by Kenneth Wuest), the Septuagint, the Complete Jewish Bible, the English Standard Version, the Geneva Bible, and the New American Standard Version. I am by no means stating that other versions are in error; these are just the versions that I find most useful for me.
Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”