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Quick Intro to the Bible

Quick Intro to New Testament

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The Bible Came to Us


A Brief Description of:

1.  The Development of Materials and Format

2.  The Development through the Changes of Language


1.  The Development of Materials and Format

Genesis Period:

During the times of the Patriarchs, small clay tablets were used for writing and keeping records.  (This was confirmed in the 1970s when an ancient archive of about 20,000 of these clay tablets, written in coniform, was found at Tell Mardikh, Ebla, in Syria.)


Exodus Times:

Many Egyptian records were kept by carving into large stones and columns; also by painting symbols onto the walls of palaces and tombs.  But for many other purposes of writing, the ancient Egyptians used papyrus (reeds – flattened, matted together, and dried out).  The Hebrews adopted the Egyptian practice of using papyrus during their time in Egypt.  Papyruses were beaten together into long sheets (scrolls) that could be rolled up and transported. 


The Bible refers to one of these scrolls in the book of Exodus.  ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered”.’  (Exodus 17:14)


New Testament Times:

Kinds of parchments were made from goatskins and sheepskins that had been treated, smoothed and stretched thin.  Parchment was later used in the making of the first of the early ‘books’ by cutting it to shape and hinging the ‘pages’ together down one side.  This was known as the ‘codex’ form and, because it was easier to handle, by the 2nd Century AD it had become the preferred form of writing material and gradually replaced the scrolls.  The earliest known complete New Testament Greek manuscript in existence today (Codex Sinaiticus) was written on parchment, and this copy dates back to the fourth century AD.


More Recent Times:

After printing presses were used to produce the first printed Bibles in the 1500s, Bibles no longer had to be individually and painstakingly copied by hand.  This revolutionary new copying process gradually brought an end to the days when only priests or monks had access to the Scriptures.


Today, Bibles are printed on mass-production lines, using fine, strong, durable paper.  They are produced at very reasonable costs, and translated into most of the world’s known languages. 


Bibles are printed in a huge variety of formats to suit all needs – large print Bibles, small size travel Bibles, Bibles that incorporate devotional material, wide margin Bibles for personal notes to be written . . . etc.  Many are printed with foot-notes at the bottom of each page to help with cross-referencing and interpretation.


The Bible is also available on CDs, Videos, DVDs and computer software.


2.  The Development through the Changes of Language


Most of the Old Testament (except parts of Daniel and parts of Ezra) was written in Hebrew, the language of the descendants of Abraham.  The books were written down, and meticulously copied individually by scribes.  The accuracy of these scribes was highlighted when the Dead Seas Scrolls were discovered in Qumran in 1947.  The clay jars found in the caves contained Hebrew copies of all the OT books except Esther.  They had been written about 1,000 years earlier than any known existing copies, and careful examination and comparison to the old Hebrew text, revealed an almost ‘word-for-word’ accuracy. 

(Click the link at the bottom of the page for info on the Dead Sea Scrolls.)



Aramaic (a closely related language to Hebrew), was the language of the Persian people.  And through trade and commerce it slowly spread to the land of Israel after the Exile.  By New Testament times, Aramaic had gradually replaced the native tongue of the Hebrews.  It had become the general lingua franca, and was the language that Jesus used.  But the Old Testament Scriptures were still in Hebrew, and now needed to be translated into Aramaic.  These translations from Hebrew to Aramaic were known as ‘Targums’, and several still remain today.



When the Greeks defeated the Persians, and Greece became the next World Empire, the Greek language also became a common language in many of the Eastern countries including Israel.  So there was now a need for the Scriptures to be translated into Greek.  This was done in about 280 BC by a large group of Hebrew scholars who were living in Egypt.  Instead of translating from the (already translated) Aramaic Targums, they went back to the original Hebrew text and made a direct Greek translation, known as the Septuagint (or LXX).  By New Testament times, this Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament was in general use in Israel by Greek-speaking Jews and the early Christians.  The New Testament was written straight down in Greek, so needed no translation.



When the Romans defeated the Greeks, and Rome became the next World Empire, Latin became the official Roman language.  By about 100 AD, many copies of the New Testament had been translated into Latin, but in 400 AD a brilliant linguist, named Jerome, was commissioned by Pope Damasus to produce a revised, more accurate, and ‘official’ translation.  Instead of revising the existing Latin texts, he enlisted the help of a Jewish Rabbi and went back to the original Hebrew and Greek texts to produce a translation known as the ‘Vulgate’ (meaning ‘common’ or ‘popular’). This project took him 21 years.


In the 13th Century AD all the books of the Bible were divided into chapters for the very first time.  This was done by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.  And later, in the 16th Century, each chapter was divided into verses by a French printer named Stephanus.



Abbreviated List of translations. 

(Click the ‘Bible Translations’ link at the bottom of the page to see a fuller version in flow-chart form.)


1384 – John Wycliffe produced first complete English translation in manuscript form.

1526 – William Tyndale produced the first English NT in printed form.

1535 – Miles Coverdale produced an updated and complete translation in printed form.

1611 – King James commissioned the ‘Authorized’ version to be translated and printed.

1885 – The ‘English Revised Version’ was produced.

1952 – The ‘Revised Standard Version’ (RSV) was produced.

1976 – The ‘Good News Bible’ was produced (plus later updates).

1979 – The ‘New International Version’ (NIV) was produced (plus later updates).





Bible Translations

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Dead Sea Scrolls

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