How We Got The Bible

How did we get the Bible? How reliable is it? Is it relevant for today? Good questions! Let me see if I can help.


How We Got the Bible: A Brief Overview        
By Jay Parkman                     

Why Look at this? To share our faith with confidence, know what we believe and why (2 Timothy 3:16).

Definitions You Should Know:

  • Autographs: The original texts were written either by the author’s own hand or by a scribe under their personal supervision.
  • Manuscripts: all Bibles were hand copied onto papyrus, parchment, and paper until Gutenberg first printed the Latin Bible in 1456.
  • Translations: When the Bible is translated into a different language it is usually translated from the original Hebrew and Greek.
    • Some translations in the past were derived from an earlier translation. For example the first English translation by John Wycliffe in 1380 was prepared from the Latin Vulgate.

How We Got the Old Testament:

The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, with some books written in Aramaic.

  • For example:
    • 555-545 B.C. The Book of Daniel Chapters. 2:4 to 7:28 were written in Aramaic.
    • 400 B.C. Ezra Chapters. 4:8 to 6:18; and 7:12-26 were written in Aramaic.
  • Why Aramaic? – 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon. They remained in Babylon under the Medo-Persian Empire and there began to speak Aramaic.
    • In The New Testament Aramaic was still the commonly spoken language.
    • For example maranatha: “Our Lord has come,” (1 Cor 16:22) is an example of Aramaic.

Primary Old Testament Texts

  • Original Hebrew (“Vorlage”)- From the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • Septuagint Translation (LXX)-
    • From “Septuaginta Interpretum” lit, “Translation of the Seventy Interpreters”.
    • 285-270 BC, 72 scholars at Alexandria copied Torah into Greek. Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Greek King of Egypt, chose 6 scholars from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to do the work.
    • It was to be kept in the famous Library in Alexandria.
  • Masoretic Text (MT)-
    • Derived from the Council of Jamnia who rejected the LXX in 90AD, and the Vorlage, since it had become the “Bible of the Christians.”
    • Produced a unified text of the OT and ensured that divergent texts were destroyed. Led to the traditional Masoretic Text.
    • Masoretes – A body of Medieval scribes of Tiberias charged with Old Testament text preservation, 500 AD- 950 AD.
      • Major Differences between LXX and Masoretic Texts:
        • Masoretic added chapters and verse numbers
        • Masoretic removed side notes
        • Masoretic focused on Aramaic vs. Greek
        • Masoretic removed Tetragrammaton (YHWH), added Adonai/ Jehovah
          • Christians are not forbidden, so Yahweh or Lord is used.

Old Testament manuscripts that are still in existence:

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls: date from 200 B.C. – 70 A.D. and contain the entire book of Isaiah and portions of every other Old Testament book but Esther.
  • Geniza Fragments: (portions the Old Testament in Hebrew and Aramaic), discovered in 1947 in an old synagogue in Cairo, Egypt, which date from about 400 A.D.
  • Ben Asher Manuscripts: five or six generations of this family made copies of the Old Testament using the Masoretic Hebrew text, from 700-950 A.D. The following are examples of the Hebrew Masoretic text-type.
  • Aleppo Codex: contains the complete Old Testament and is dated around 950 A.D.
    • Unfortunately over one quarter of this Codex was destroyed in anti-Jewish riots in 1947.
  • Codex Leningradensis: The complete Old Testament in Hebrew copied by the last member of the Ben Asher family in A.D. 1008.

Where did these extra books of the Old Testament come from? – The 39 books had been inspired, were written and collected by 425BC. According to Jewish tradition, Ezra, the scribe who worked with Nehemiah to resettle God’s people and rebuild Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon formed the Great Synagogue, the “school of the scribes”. In this school the Old Testament as we’ve basically come to know it was tested, compiled and accepted.

 How did they go about selecting the books? – Two rules were followed:

  • One, the writer of the book was a well known spokesperson for God. In each case, the writer made the claim to be speaking and writing the inspired Word of God.
  • Two, the book had to be error free- no errors with theology, history or geography at all.
    • After 425BC, at least 14 additional books surfaced, commonly called “The Apocrypha”. The only church to accept them as inspired was the Roman Catholic Church. Everyone else rejected them as Scripture, but saw them as historical.
      • Why? None of the writers of those extra books claimed to have divine inspiration and they all in some way contained errors of doctrine, facts and ethics. (For example, some of those books advocate suicide, assassinating people and praying for the dead.)

How We Got the New Testament:

  • All of the books of the New Testament were written between 48 A.D. and 95 A.D. The oldest copies date to the last quarter of the first century and the second oldest copies are dated at 125 A.D.
    • This means that there was only about 35-40 years, a very narrow space of time, between when the Apostles wrote the originals and when copies have been found to exist.
    • Manuscript Evidence: 5,300 copies found of Greek manuscripts from very early centuries.
    • Syriac, Latin and Coptic and Aramaic copies make over 24,633 manuscripts total!
  • To compare manuscripts and length of time of other non-biblical popular works of literature: Aristotle wrote “Ode to Poetics” between 384 and 322 B.C. The earliest copy of this work is dated 1100 A.D., and there are only 49 surviving manuscripts. This means the gap between the original writing and the earliest copy is 1,400 years. Plato wrote “Tetralogies” between 427 and 347 B.C. The earliest copy is dated 900 A.D. This means that between the original writing and the earliest copy is over 1,200 years.

How did they compile the New Testament and what about the extra books?-

  • Three rules were followed:
    • First, the book had to be authored by either an Apostle or someone closely associated with him.
    • Second, the writings had to be consistent with what that Apostle regularly taught.
    • Third, the book had to be regularly read in the churches.
  • Historic note: Clement (30-100 AD), Ignatius (30-107 AD), Polycarp (65-155 AD), Papias (70-155 AD) *both Ignatius and Polycarp were disciples of the apostle John, Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) and Irenaeus (120-202 AD) all cite every accepted book of the New Testament. They do not acknowledge the extra ones, meaning they either didn’t know about them or rejected them as biblical.


The compilation of OT was believed to have been under Ezra as Jewish tradition holds that he formed a “School of the Scribes” and from there they produced manuscripts. Then, Ptolemy II commissioned the Septuagint version to be copied from the Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek for the Alexandrian Library around 250AD.  The early church relied heavily on the Septuagint version and orthodox Jews disdained it as “what those Christians were using”. That’s how that Masoretic sect came about in 90AD. 

For the NT, my understanding was that church fathers, Polycarp, Clement, etc. were the “compilers” as epistles and such were copied and passed around the churches. Then a church council in Carthage in A.D. 397 confirmed the books that were already known to be true based on the criteria I had given in the notes. 





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