The Bible is made up of a bunch of old books, historical documents, diaries, letters, and poetry written by many different people. The authors had no idea their writings would be preserved in a master collection known as the Bible. Job 19:23 says, “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll.” Well, Job, they were.
The stories started out as oral tradition passed from generation to generation. They were told over and over until memorization was inevitable. The stories were their heritage. Eventually, people learned how to write the stories down. Moses is generally credited to have written the first five books of the Bible. He must have heard the stories of his ancestors thousands of times. So, he had the words written out to tell the familiar stories. These written words soon became very important to the Hebrew people.
I’m sure there were other people who learned how to write down their collection of family stories, too. But the words written by Moses had special meaning. Moses’ stories were a first-hand account of the events that shaped Hebrew history. The scrolls of Moses’ stories came to be regarded as sacred. But, there were others, too, who wrote history down and recorded the events that shaped the Israelite nation.
The stories of King David, Isaiah, Ruth, and many others were written and collected by the Hebrew people to try to preserve their heritage. At first, a combination of pictures and words was chipped into flat stones. Later, the text was written on strips of rawhide, and later still, thin pieces of bark from a papyrus tree. These strips were then rolled up into scrolls. Very few people could read or write back then, so just getting the stories written down was quite a task. The author may have written it himself, or he may have dictated it to professional writers called scribes. The original scrolls were then copied by hand and checked and rechecked for mistakes. This was a long process, but it was the only way to reproduce the original.
The people of the Old Testament generally wrote in Hebrew. This was the common language of the Jewish people at the time. As Greece grew to be the dominant world power, the Scriptures had to be translated from Hebrew into Greek. A group of seventy translators set about the task. They were based in Egypt and spent many years compiling the ancient texts and writing them out in Greek. This early version of the Scriptures became known as the Septuagint.
A few centuries later, about the time of Christ’s birth, Rome became the dominant world power and the language of the people changed from Greek to Latin. Translators once again set out to bring the Scriptures up to date.
There were many different versions of the Latin translations arising. The early Christian Church determined that a universal translation was needed. In the late 4th century, Pope Damasus commissioned a scholar named Jerome to write out the ancient scriptures, or the Old Testament, as well as the newer collection of writings we now know as the New Testament and combine them into one book in Latin. This first edition of the complete Bible is what we now call the Vulgate. This is the Bible that circulated throughout the next thousand years.
In 14th century England, a man named John Wyclif began the task of translating the Bible into English for the first time. Unfortunately, it was actually against the law to own, or even read a Bible in English. A few years later, Johann Gutenberg found a way to reproduce the written word quickly and in mass. There had been a similar method used in China for thousands of years, but Gutenberg perfected the printing press for use in modern Europe. His first project was to reproduce the entire Bible, in Latin of course. Finally, in 1611, the King James Version of the Bible was released in English.
Newer versions have since been written to make it a little easier to understand since few us of still speak like they did in the sixteen-hundreds. These Bibles all tell the same thing in the same order. The book, chapter and verse divisions are the same from one Bible to the next. they just use different, more modern vocabulary words.
Many people helped to make the Bible into a book we can read in our own language. Many people gave their very lives to see to it that we could read it for ourselves. Today, the Bible has been translated into hundreds of different languages for people all over the world.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
In the 1940’s, a shepherd boy in Iraq was throwing rocks into caves when he heard an unusual sound. Upon further investigation, something amazing was found. Hidden in the back of the cave were clay barrels filled with ancient scrolls dating back as far as 250 B.C. These scrolls had not been touched in nearly two thousand years until a stone shattered one of the clay pots! Isn’t it neat that God uses little boys with rocks? When these scrolls were carefully unrolled and read, they contained copies of the Scriptures that were almost word for word exactly what we have in our Bibles today. Time and translation had not diluted or warped God’s Word. Amazing!