The Journey from Texts to Translations (the Origin and Development of the Bible)

by Paul D. Wenger

Millions of Christians read the Bible with some regularity, but few know how the Bible came to be. The Bible is a book written over a period of several hundred years in three languages by many authors, yet it constitutes one whole. How did that happen?

Paul D. Wenger has traced the Bible from its earliest beginnings to modern times. In its English translation the Old Testament consists of thirty-nine books. But the modern Hebrew Bible enumerates only thirty-six books, even though they both contain the same writings. The English Bible divides the Old Testament into four sections: Law, History, Poetry, and Prophets. The Hebrew Bible has three divisions: Torah (Law), Prophets, and Writings. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from the third and second centuries before Christ, contains all the writings of the Hebrew Old Testament plus some non-canonical books called the Apocrypha. Protestant Christianity later rejected the apocryphal books.

The New Testament was first written in Greek, mostly in the first century. What we accept today as the New Testament was widely circulated in the first two centuries, along with some writings not included in the eventual canon. Gradually, church leaders accepted writings as authentic which passed four tests: 1) Was the book written by an apostle, or at least someone of recognized authority? 2) Did it agree with the canon of truth? 3) Did it enjoy universal acceptance? 4) Does it have a self-authenticating divine nature?

Throughout church history various translations of the Bible have appeared to meet the needs of the people. The Latin Vulgate was translated from the Greek for the many who then spoke Latin in the fourth century. Syrian and Slavic version made early appearances.

The invention of the printing press gave rise to many English versions, including the King James Version of 1611. The English Revised Version appeared in 1885. The Americans were not satisfied with some parts of the English Revised Version, so they produced the American Standard Version (this was updated as the New American Standard Bible in 1971).

Dozens of modern English translations appeared in the twentieth century: Phillips Version (1972), the Berkley Version (1959), the New English Bible (1970), the Jerusalem Bible (1966), the Living Bible (1971), and the Revised English Bible (1989).