The History of the Bible

BIBLE INSTRUCTOR: The History of the Bible

Bible study outline

Bible Instructor, Southern California Conference

[EDITORIAL NOTE. Frequently honest inquirers ask the Bible instructor how it was that we received our Bible. It is then that the teacher should have in mind some of the outstanding events in the development of God's Book. We are submitting an outline from which may be culled those points that will be of special interest to the inquirer, and should his interest be especially keen in this direction, more information may be forthcoming. Mrs. Fae Mark is here sharing her material on the history of the Bible with other Bible instructors. L. c. K.]

"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts."2 Peter 1:19.

"During the first twenty-five hundred years of human history, there was no written revelation. Those who had been taught of God, communicated their knowledge to others, and it was handed down from father to son, through successive generations. The preparation of the written word began in the time of Moses. Inspired revelations were then embodied in an inspired book. This work continued during the long period of sixteen hundred years, from Moses, the historian of creation and the law. to John, the recorder of the most sublime truths of the gospel." The Great Controversy, Introduction, p. v.


1. Written in Hebrew. (Exceptions: Daniel 2:4 to 7:28; Ezra 4:8 to 6:18; and Jeremiah 10:11, and a proper name in Genesis 31:47, which were Biblical Aramaic.) 

2. MSS. Written by hand.



1. Written in Greek.

2. Language then used.



1. It is a commonly held theory that it was prepared by about seventy learned Jews of Alexandria.

2. Used most commonly by the evangelists and apostles.

3. Made at different times beginning at 280 B.C.

4. Accounts for the differences between it and our Old Testament.

5. Our Old Testament translated directly from the Hebrew.



1. Written by the leaders of the church.

2. Valued not so much for doctrine as for practical teachings.



Biblical treasures can be placed, then, in three great classes:

A. Manuscripts, These are copies in the original language. Faded parchments with crowded square letter ing.

1. The form of the letters is the chief guide. The oldest and most valuable written in capital letters as illustrated: NOWWHENJESUSWASBORNINBETHLEHEMOFJUDEA like the uncial MSS.

2. Three oldest MSS. are in possession of the three great branches of the Christian church.

a. Alexandrian (called Codex A) belongs to Protestant England, and is kept in the MSS. room of the British Museum.

b. Vatican (called Codex B) is in the Vatican Library of Rome.

c. Sinaitic (Codex Aleph) is one of the treasures of the Greek Church, and is now in the British Museum.

These MSS. show us the Bible as it existed soon after the apostolic days. There are others of less importance and of a later date that will not be considered here.

B. Ancient Versions and Quotations. The first is an open MS. Syriac translation. Later come the Coptic and the Latin for early church.

The translations of the Bible into the languages of early Christendom long before the oldest of the present Greek MSS. were written. The parents of some of the writers might easily have seen and known the apostles themselves. Therefore even though only translations, they are of great value in determining the original text.

Written in the old Syriac language, which was probably in use only fifty years after the writing of the New Testament, they are no doubt written in the language of the people among which our Lord lived.

Of equal usefulness are the Egyptian, Ethiopic, and Armenian versions. The Old Latin, with the Syriac already considered, proves most valuable for the purpose of textual criticism.

Then came Jerome's Latin Vulgate Version in the latter part of the fourth century. This was to pre serve the purity of the Bible, because so many errors and mistakes were creeping into the Old Latin at this time. There was a struggle at first, but by the time of the Council of Trent, nearly a thousand years later, it had a wide acceptance. The Roman Church decreed this version should be accepted.

C. Writings of Early Christian Fathers.

From the second to the fifth century. Resemble the manuscripts in appearance.

These writings are valuable for their aid in deter mining the text of ancient Bibles, many of them going back as far as the original New Testament writings. Let us examine a few of the earliest:

1. The Epistle of Barnabas. This Dr. Konstantin Tischendorf found bound up with the Sinaitic MSS.

2. Epistle by Clement: One of the earliest bishops of Rome, who many claim is the Clement mentioned by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:3. This letter is said by Irenaeus to be a very valuable one, for it is written by one who has seen and also conversed with the apostles. The epistle was addressed to the church at Corinth.

3. Epistle by the Shepherd of Hernias, who some claim is the Hermas of Romans 16:14. Some of his quotations are preserved.

4. St. Ignatius became the bishop of Antioch about forty years after the ascension. There are a few quotations from him.

5. The martyr Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, and is thus spoken of by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons. He knew him in his youth. Although his epistle is a very short one, it contains nearly forty references to the New Testament books, some of which are valuable for critical purposes.

6. The Apologies by Justin Martyr. Written about the year AJX 150.

7. Origen and Clement of Alexandria in the third century

.8. Basil, Augustine, and Jerome in the fourth century.

The sources of information then open to the translators may be briefly summed up in three classes: (I) MSS., (2) versions, (3) quotations from the Fathers. (It stands to reason that the older manuscripts would, of course, be likely to be the more correct.)



1. Early English Versions.

a. The Bible Poet, Caedmon.

b. Aldhelm and Egbert.

c. The Venerable Bede, monk of Jarrow.

d. Alfred the Great.

e. Archbishop Aelfric.

2. Wycliffe's Version.1382 about as early a version as was to retain its place among the English people. Wycliffe gave to England her first complete Bible from the Latin. It was based on the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome a translation of a translation.

3. Tyndale's Version. Translated from the original Greek and He brew. This shows the growth of the English language. Resemblance to our Authorized Version. Tyndale prayed that the Lord would open the King of England's eyes.

4. The Great Bible. The first English Authorized Version in 1539. King Henry had openly broken with the pope. The Great Bible was virtually Tyndale's.

5. Other Versions. Immediately following came other versions, such as:

a. Miles Coverdale translated from Dutch and Latin.

b. Matthew's Bible really prepared by John Rogers, one of the early reformers who was martyred by Queen Mary.

c. Tavener's Bible little more than an edition of Matthew's.

6. The Geneva Bible.

About twenty years after Tyndale, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The Marian exiles brought it back with them from Geneva, the work of the best years of their banishment. This was accepted by Elizabeth. Most popular Bible ever to hold sway in England. More of a revision than a translation; the Tyndale Bible was the basis chiefly used. First to contain marginal references and helpful notes on the obscure passages. These were used as a basis for our Authorized Version.

7. The King James Version.

About seventy years after the death of Tyndale. England had three different versions: The Geneva, the Bishops', and the Great Bible of Henry VIII, which perhaps was chained to some wooden or stone desk in many of the churches. The Great Bible was antiquated and cumbersome; the Geneva Bible had become the Bible of a party, through the character of its notes; and the Bishops' version retained its inferior mark among scholars. There was plainly a need for another, a new version, which would be accepted by all. King James Authorized Version was the result of authorized Bible scholars, who had a knowledge of the Greek and the Hebrew, and who were qualified to revise and prepare another version, using the best they could obtain as their basic material. They were to eliminate all marginal references, except for the explanation of Hebrew and Greek words. Never before had such care and effort been expended on the English Bible. Hence, the obvious re sult, a splendid Authorized Version of which the English are duly proud.

8. The Revised Version.

Why should we have needed a new revision? Let us follow the revisions from Tyndale's day to the present time: 

1525-- Tyndale's first New Testament.

1534-- Revised by Tyndale himself.

1535-- Revised again by Tyndale.

1537-- More improvement in Matthew's Bible.

1539-- The Great Bible, result of further re vision.

1560-- The Geneva Bible, more revision.

1568-- The Bishops' Bible.

1611-- The Authorized Version, more thorough and splendid work. This in itself is one of the best proofs of the value of Bible revision.

1881-- After more than a decade of work both in England and America on the part of the best scholars the two continents had to offer, a revision of the Authorized Version of the New Testament was in the hands of the public. By 1885 the revised Old Testament was completed, and the whole Bible was available in the. Revised Version. This translation had the merit of following in the line of the Authorized Version in that it was a committee translation, and thus represented the cooperative effort and judgment of outstanding men who had worked together, comparing and recomparing their efforts at different intervals. At the time of its publication this version was enthusiastically received on both sides of the Atlantic.

1901-- The group of American scholars who had cooperated with the British in the production of the Revised Version of 1881-1885 recognized that a need still remained for a version that would be distinctly American in its phraseology, since the Revised Version had been characteristically British. This led them to continue their work after the publication of the 1885 Bible, with the result that in 1901 there appeared the American Standard Version. This has practically superseded the earlier revision in America, where it is commonly known as the Revised Version.

1916-- Great advances in archaeological discovery, together with a flood of light thrown on the Greek language and the New Testament text by the papyri, have made evident certain definite defects in the revised versions. In 1930 a committee was organized to revise the revision of 1901, with a view not only to scholarly accuracy in the light of recent discoveries, but also to greater usability in worship and religious education. This Bible is known as the Revised Standard Version. The New Testament was published in 1946, and the complete Bible has just appeared, September 30, 1952.

On the whole, although the revised versions have been more scholarly, they have lacked the literary charm and familiarity of language of the Authorized Version, which is now most generally accepted in the English-speaking world, and no doubt will continue to be a popular Bible in the future. To what extent the new Revised Standard Version will win a place in the common use of the people, only the future can tell. The committee that produced it have made definite efforts to remove certain deficiencies in style which rendered the American Standard Version unpopular; its undeniably beautiful phraseology will commend it to the common reader, and its scholarliness gives it a high degree of reliability.

While this newest version represents the high point of English Bible translation to date, revision and retranslation will doubtless continue. And this is as it should be, for scholars continually make new discoveries, and as long as time lasts there will be a need for rephrasing abiding truth in language more nearly expressive of the original authors' words. Just one problem must be weighed today the need to beware of the tendency of innovation to fit modern thinking, especially along the line of interpretation of prophetic portions of the Bible. 



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Bible Instructor, Southern California Conference

December 1952

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