Well….to begin we have to go back a long way – to the time of Moses. Moses is the one who wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch (around 1450 BC). Then over the next millennia we have the remainder of the Old Testament written. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew on scrolls. There were Hebrew scribes whose sole purpose was to transcribe the scripture from one scroll to another. They were so meticulous that if any mistake was made, even if one letter touched another, they would take out that part of the scroll and then take out the next portion of the scroll because that part had touched a mistake. Although that sounds like overkill, it shows the seriousness they took in making sure their transcriptions were accurate. It also shows how meticulous they would be to ensure that they did not make a mistake. It is not a surprise then, that when the Dead Sea scrolls were found that what is in our current Bible today from Isaiah is identical in almost every detail to the scrolls found.
There are many writings, called the Apocrypha, which were usually kept with the Old Testament scriptures, but most Jews considered them more like popular writings but not really inspired scripture. What we know today as the 39 books of the Old Testament were considered the inspired scriptures.
In the New Testament when we read of the people talking about “the scriptures” they are referring to the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures considered inspired (not the Apocrypha). That is because what we now know of the New Testament was not part of the scriptures at that point. The New Testament books, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Jude, were completed by 95 AD. Since Greek was the language of the day, the New Testament was written in Greek. Again, these letters which became our scripture were written on scrolls.
We have to thank Athanasius of Alexandria, who lived in the 4th century, for our current New Testament. He waged a spiritual war against those who, in his statements, wanted to dilute the gospel by trying to include non-inspired writings into the scriptures. While he agreed that many of them were worth reading, he did not feel they should be included in a combined cannon of scripture. He also fiercely fought against Arianism which taught that Jesus Christ had a beginning and was not equal with God Himself. This doctrine almost caused a split within the Christian realm. This was the time of Emperor Constantine who wanted a united Christian church and thereby called together 1800 bishops (of which only 300 came - it seems that Christian apathy is nothing new!) to Nicaea which has become known as the council of Nicaea. From this meeting came the official rejection of Arianism and the recognition of the 27 books of our present New Testament. Although the book of Revelation remained controversial until the 10th century! The downside was that Constantine instituted a more organized government of the church and became the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church. I say downside because this started a slippery slope where fewer and fewer people had more and more power and control which decreased the chance of having check and balances in place around how scripture should be interpreted. This is not about bashing on the Catholic Church. It is just a matter of history. The Protestants have some skeletons in their closet as well.
In 382, Jerome translated the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament into Latin, the official language of the organized church. This became known as the Latin Vulgate. He included the Apocrypha as well although he did denote that they were likely not inspired scripture. Over the next 100 years, the Bible was translated into over 500 languages. However, over the next 100 years, there was only one: the Latin Vulgate. The Roman Catholic Church had outlawed any other version of the Bible and anyone caught with any other version could be executed. As with any institution, any time there is a human in power it can lead to corruption. Remember the saying, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As is always the case, those in power have to be extra vigilant of their responsibility before God. Unfortunately, even the church was, and is, not immune to this problem. Since only the priests of the church were trained in Latin, the common people were totally dependent upon the church for interpretation of what the Bible says to them. Thereby, many corrupt practices were instituted by those in power in order to increase the wealth of the institutional church. Therefore, this diluted the actual spiritual influence on the people. As the Roman Catholic Church influenced more and more civilizations, the institutional church forced morality outwardly rather than changing people inwardly and then allowing their believe in God to change them outwardly. This is how it was for most of the Dark and Middle Ages.
The only major non-Catholic influence during this time was on the Scottish Isle of Ionia when a man by the name of Columba started a Bible College. Tradition has it that it may have had its beginning from the influence of Joseph of Arimathea. John Wycliffe was from this background and an Oxford professor who was a major force of the Reformation in the 1300’s whose purpose was to get the Bible back into the hands of the masses in their own native tongue. He had many English manuscripts produced from translations using the Latin Vulgate. One of his followers, John Hus, continued his work. However, the Roman Church had him burned at the stake in 1415 using Wycliffe’s translations as kindling for the fire! Huss stated that the Church would not be able to suppress this forever and would lose within 100 years.
Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450’s and his first publication was the Latin version of the Bible. This paved the way for others to get Bibles to the masses more quickly. This invention became what allowed the Reformation to become so successful. In the 1490’s Thomas Linacre and John Colet, both Oxford professors taught themselves Greek so they could read the New Testament in its original language. They found many errors in the Latin Vulgate but the Roman Catholic Church was still adamant that one could only read the Bible in Latin even though it was not its original language. Colet began translating directly from Greek into English and passing it out to the masses. His church service grew to 20,000 people! He barely escaped execution. Who you knew has always seemed to matter!
Building on the experience of these two, Erasmus then had a Greek – Latin parallel Bible printed. However, this Latin translation was from the original Greek. This further highlighted the errors that had been propagated from the transcriptions made from the Latin Vulgate and pointed to the fact that one must constantly go back to the original language to prevent inaccuracies. However, the Roman Catholic Church was not sympathetic and refused to recognize this version of the Bible.
William Tyndale in England and Martin Luther in Germany were contemporaries with a similar mission in mind. True to Hus’ prophecy, it was about 100 years later, on Halloween in 1517, that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses of Contention on the church’s door in Wittenberg, Germany. Also, in 1517, the Roman Catholic Church has 7 families burned at the stake because they taught their children to recite the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than in Latin. Although Luther was almost martyred and later exiled, he was able to publish a German translation of Erasmus’ Greek-Latin New Testament into the most widely used German dialect in 1522 (later got the entire Bible published in German in 1530). Tyndale wanted to do the same; visited Luther in 1525 and by the end of that year was able to publish the Tyndale New Testament and at the same time eluding capture and execution.
The Bishop tried to burn them as fast as he could confiscate them, but they were so popular they spread everywhere and even found its way to King Henry VIII. While King Henry was not really that interested in the Christian cause, this did lead him to devise a plan of his own. Because the Pope would not allow him to divorce his wife and marry his mistress, he devised a plan to accomplish this with the church’s blessing. He married her anyway, removed England from the jurisdiction of Rome and made himself head of state and head of the church, which became known as the Anglican Church or Church of England. And, just for spite, he funded the printing of English Bibles.
However, when Queen “Bloody” Mary came to the English throne she was determined to return England under Roman Catholicism and began persecuting and executing Reformers by burning them at the stake. Many fled to Switzerland. The church in Geneva was sympathetic to the Reformers’ cause and the members put together an English scholarly translation that instituted chapters and verses in order to follow public reading better and many margin notes so families could train their families. The Geneva Bible was published in 1560 and became the first English study Bible. About this time the reign of England was now under Queen Elizabeth I who was now head of the Anglican Church. She was more tolerant to the printing of English Bibles and the Geneva Bible became the most popular.
By the 1580’s the Roman Catholic Church gave up the fight to prevent the printing of English Bibles and so printed one of their own. It was a translation of the Latin Vulgate and the Apocrypha even those Erasmus has already pointed out the errors in the Latin Vulgate.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth came King James I. The leaders of the Anglican Church did not like all of the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible as they felt them too controversial. Therefore, they wanted a version without all of the marginal notes. Therefore, they approached the king to have another translation made and they would remove all of the scholarly notes that were in the Geneva Bible. The King James Version was published in 1611. However, it took decades for the King James Version to become accepted and more popular than the Geneva Bible. As stated in my last post, the Puritans used the Geneva Bible and not the King James Bible.
The first Bible printed in America was a copy of the King James Bible. It was printed by Robert Aitken in 1782, because there was an embargo on English goods coming into America, and was commissioned by the United States Congress. Of note, it was not until 1880’s that the Apocrypha were not part of each and every printing of the Bible. The American Bible Society agreed to their
removal in 1885.
The apocryphal books are as follows (you can view them from The Official King James Bible Online):
Additions to Esther
Wisdom of Solomon
Letter of Jeremiah
Prayer of Azariah
Bel and the Dragon
Prayer of Manasseh
The apocryphal books were not considered as part of the canon of scripture by the Jews or the early church. Although printed in the Bibles prepared by the Reformers, they were printed between the Old and New Testament and always kept apart from the canon of scripture. They are interesting and have historical significance but have many teachings that are contrary to the inspired canon of scripture.
I hope you have found this brief history educational and explore further on your own. God Bless!
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