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History of the Bible:
Materials, Timeline, and Translations

Although the history of the Bible contains interesting facts, it's how those facts pertain to a relationship with God that I find most fascinating.

When Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:8 that God "knows what you need", He isn't just referring to food and clothing. God knows we struggle with faith every day. He knows we don't fully trust Him. So, as any loving Father would, He provides us with ample evidence and creative means that draw us to Him.

As you'll see, each piece of history of the Bible adds to the other from the earliest manuscripts to modern translations currently sold in book stores. If you are struggling with your faith, I hope this article is just what you need to restore faith and begin a new relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Early Writing Materials

Egyptians created scrolls that were written on a material made out the papyrus plant. The stem was stripped into thin layers and laid side by side so that the strips overlapped slightly. A second layer was added across the first in the same manner and glued to the first. Scrolls were created by attaching sheets end to end horizontally and rolled. Although this method of capturing the written word was cheaper in the day, it was not as durable.

A second form or paper was made out of animal skins and are known as vellum and parchment. Animal hides were soaked in limewater for a time to ease scraping of hair. After hair was removed, the skins were dried and then cleaned with a pumice stone. Vellum refers to higher quality animal skin made from calves, while parchment was inferior skins made from other animals.

The history of the Bible began by writing Moses' words on papyrus using dried reeds cut to a point and dipped in ink. These reed pens were soon to be replace by bird feathers.

Integrity and Reliability

The entire Bible was written over a period of about 1,600 years through divine inspiration of over forty men. The first writings have been dated back to around 1,500 to 1,450 B.C.

The volume of manuscripts discovered in various expeditions over the years speaks to the reliability and accuracy of the text that has become our Bible. Compared to other ancient manuscripts, the history of the Bible writings confirms integrity and reliabilty like no other ancient work.

The table below compares three famous ancient manuscript evidence to New Testament manuscript evidence discovered.

AuthorBookDate
Written
Earliest
Copy
# Copies
HomerIliad800 B.C.c. 400 B.C.643
PlatoN/A400 B.C.A.D. 9007
CaesarGallic wars100-44 B.C.A.D. 90010
VariousNew TestamentA.D. 50-1001146000

As you can see, there are significantly more copies of the New Testament than any other ancient manuscript that has been discovered. This is primarily due to God setting in place the Jewish tradition of preserving the history of the Bible for future generations to read, enjoy, and learn from.

"Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora (parva, magna, and finalis) they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity-scribes, lawyers, massoretes. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?"
- Bernard Ramm, speaking on the accuracy and number of biblical manuscripts

Original Language and Early Translations

The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, with a few texts found to be written in Aramaic. On the other hand, the New Testament was written mostly in Greek, again with a relatively small number of words written in Aramaic.

A Brief History of Bible Translations

Time PeriodTranslation
430–420 b.c.Completion of the Hebrew Bible manuscripts
200 b.c.Completion of the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Hebrew into Greek.
1st century a.d.Completion of all the original Greek manuscripts which make up the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
390Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate.
1384Wycliffe is the first person to produce a manuscript copy, hand-written of course, of the complete Bible in English.
1455Gutenberg’s printing press enables books to be mass-produced instead of individually hand-written. The first printed book was Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.
1535Myles Coverdale’s Bible is the first complete Bible to be printed in the English language.
1539The "Great Bible" was the first English Language Bible to be authorized for public use.
1560The Geneva Bible was the first English Language Bible to print chapter and verse numbers.
1782The Robert Aitken’s Bible is printed and becomes the first English Language Bible (a King James Version without the Apocrypha) to be printed in America.
1791Isaac Collins produces the first Family Bible printed in America, using the KJV. Isaiah Thomas produces the first illustrated Bible Printed in America, using the KJV.
1901The "American Standard Version" was the first major American revision of the KJV.

holy bible Today, the Bible has been translated in part or in whole into 1,200 different languages or dialects. Some of the landmarks of the history of Bible translation now follow.

The history of the Bible testifies that God is creative in the way he accomplishes his work, and in this case, how he communicates to his children.