A Time Line of Key Events in the History of the Bible
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Ten Key Points
- The Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Petr 1:20-21)
- The Bible is made up of 66 different books that were written over 1,600 years, from approximately 1500 BC to AD 100 by more than 40 kings, prophets, leaders and followers of Jesus. The Old Testament has 39 books, written approximately 1500-400 BC). The New Testament has 27 books (written approximately AD 45-100). The Hebrew Bible has the same text as the English Bible’s Old Testament, but divides and arranges it differently.
- The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew, with some Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek.
- The books of the Bible were collected and arranged and recognized as inspired sacred authority by councils of rabbis and councils of church leaders based on careful guidelines.
- Before the printing press was invented, the Bible was copied by hand. The Bible was copied very accurately, in many cases by special scribes who developed intricate methods of counting words and letters to insure that no errors had been made.
- The Bible was the first book ever printed on the printing press with moveable type – Gutenberg Press, 1455 Latin Bible.
- There is much evidence that the Bible we have today is remarkably true to the original writings. Of the thousands of copies made by hand before AD 1500, more than 5,300 Greek manuscripts from the New Testament alone still exist today. The text of the Bible is better preserved than the writings of Caesar, Plato or Aristotle.
- The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the astonishing reliability of some of the copies of the Old Testament made over the years. Some variations exist, most of which involve spelling. No variation affects basic Bible doctrines.
- As the Bible was carried to other countries, it was translated into the common language of the people by scholars who wanted others to know God’s Word.
- By AD 200, the Bible was translated into seven languages; by AD 500, 13 languages; by AD 900, 17 languages; by AD 1400, 28 languages; by 1800, 57 languages, by 1900, 537 languages; by 1980 1,100 languages.
[Courtesy: The World Christian Encyclopedia]
Old Testament written about 1500-400 BC
The Bible was written on stone, clay and leather.
New Testament written about AD 45-100
The Bible was written on papyrus. The oldest New Testament fragment (from John 18) that we have today was copied in Greek on a papyrus codex around AD 110-130.
Bible copied on Papyrus
Scrolls of leather, and later of papyrus, were used to make copies of the scriptures. A papyrus codex is a bound volume made from sheets folded and sewn together, sometimes with a cover. They were used more than scrolls after AD 1-100.
Bible Copied on Fine Animal Skins
Fine quality animal skins from calves or antelope (vellum) and sheep or goats (parchment) were used for over 1000 years to make copies of the Bible approximately AD 300-1400.
Two of the oldest vellum copies (AD 325-350) that exist today are the Vatican Codex and the Sinaitic Codex.
Bible Printed by Printing Press after 1455
Wycliffe Bibles were inscribed by hand on vellum in the 1300’s-1400’s. Some copies took ten months to two years to produce and cost a year’s wage. The Bible was the first book to be printed with Gutenberg’s printing press in 1455.
The Bible, God’s Word to the World
The Bible is now printed on paper in many versions and languages. It is also on tape recordings, compact discs and computers.
[box] 2000 BC[/box]
Old Testament events are written down in Hebrew (portions in Aramaic) over centuries. In Exodus, the Lord tells Moses to write in a book. Other Old Testament writers, inspired by God, include leaders, kings and prophets. Together, these writings on leather scrolls and other materials are called the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.
[box] 500 BC[/box]
Ezra, a priest and scribe, collects and arranges some of the books of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament – about 450 BC, according to Jewish tradition.
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). It is translated in 250-100 BC by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. (The word “Septuagint” means “seventy”, referring to the tradition that 70 or 72 men translated it. It is often abbreviated LXX, the Roman numeral for seventy.)
[box] 200 BC[/box]
The books are arranged by subject: historical, poetic, and prophetical. It includes the Apocrypha (meaning “hidden”) referring to seven books that were included in the Hebrew Bible until AD 90 when they were removed by Jewish elders.
[box] AD 1[/box]
Papyrus, a plant, is cut into strips and pressed into sheets of writing material and can be made into a scroll or a codex. The New Testament books were prrobably first written on papyrus scrolls. Later Christians begin to copy them on sheets of papyrus which are bound and placed between two pieces of wood for covers. This form of early book is known as a codex.
Time of Jesus 6 BC-AD 30 Jesus quotes the Old Testament (Scriptures) often. He says that he did not come to destroy the scriptures, but to fulfill them. He says to his disciples, “these are the words which I spoke unto you … that ll things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. Luke 24:44-45
[box] AD 100[/box]
Followers of Jesus Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude write the Gospels, history, letters to other Christians, and the Revelation between AD 45 and 100. The writers quote from all but eight of the Old Testament books. These writings in Greek are copied and circulated so that by about AD 150 there is wide enough use of them to speak of the “New Testament” (“New Covenant”). The new covenant God made with people was promised in Jer. 31:31-34 and referred to by Jesus (Lk. 22:20) and Paul (1 Cor. 11:25) and in the letter to the Hebrews.
[box] AD 200[/box]
Council at Jamnia (90) Jewish elders confirm the Hebrew Bible canon, without the apocrypha, as authoritative.
Earliest Translations AD 200-300 Latin, Coptic (Egypt) and Syriac (Syria).
Church fathers accept the writings of the Gospels and Paul’s letters as canonical (from a Greek word referring to the rule of faith and truth). Origen lists 21 approved New Testament books. Eusebius lists 22 accepted books.
[box] AD 300[/box]
The New Testament books are collected and circulated throughout the Mediterranean about the time of Constantine, the Roman emperor who legalizes Christianity in AD 313. By AD 400 the standard of 27 New Testament books is accepted in the East and West as confirmed by Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine and three church councils. The 27 books of the New Testament were formally confirmed as canonical by the Synod of Carthage in AD 397, thus recognizing three centuries of use by followers of Christ.
Jerome starts translating the Scriptures into Latin in AD 4190 and finishes 25 years later. This translation, called the Latin Vulgate, remains the basic Bible for many centuries.
[box] AD 500[/box]
Roman Empire declines. Germanic migrations (AD 378-600) cause new languages to emerge.
The Masoretes are special Jewish scribes entrusted with the sacred task of making copies of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) approximately AD 500-900. They develop a meticulous system of counting the number of words in each book of the Bible to make sure they have copied it accurately. Any scroll found to have an error is buried according to Jewish law.
[box] AD 600[/box]
Christianity reaches Britain before AD 300, but Anglo-Saxon pagans drive Christian Britons into Wales (AD 450-600). In AD 596, Augustine of Canterbury begins evangelization again.
Caedmon, an illiterate monk, retells portions of Scripture in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) poetry and song (AD 676).
Aldhelm of Sherborne, AD 709, is said to have translated the Psalms.
[box] AD 1300[/box]
Bede, a monk and scholar, makes an Old English (Anglo Saxon) translation of portions of scripture. On his deathbed in 735, he finishes translating the Book of John.
Alfred The Great, King of Wessex, 871-901, translates portion of Exodus, Psalms and Acts.
Aldred, Bishop of Durham, inserts a translation in the Northumbrian dialect between the lines of the Lindisfarne Gospels (950).
Aelfric, 955-1000, translates portions of the Old Testament.
Normans conquer England (1066) and make French the official language. No English translation work produced until the 1300s.
Middle English emerges, popularized by works such as the Canterbury Tales and Richard Rolle’s Psalter (1340).
First English Bible is translated from Latin in 1382 and is called the Wycliffe Bible in honor of priest and Oxford scholar John Wycliffe. During his lifetime, Wycliffe had wanted common people to have the Bible. He also criticized a number of church practices and policies. His followers, derisively called Lollards (meaning “mumblers”) included his criticisms in the preface to the Wycliffe Bible. This Bible is banned and burned. Forty years after Wycliffe’s death, his bones are exhumed and burned for heresy.
[box] AD 1500[/box]
In 1408, in England, it becomes illegal to translate or read the Bible in common English without permission of a bishop.
World’s first printing press with moveable metal type is invented in 1455 in Germany by Johann Gutenberg. This invention is perhaps the single most important event to influence the spread of the Bible.
The Gutenberg Bible is the first book ever printed. This Latin Vulgate version is often illuminated by artists who hand paint letters and ornaments on each page.
Erasmus, a priest and Greek scholar, publishes a Greek translation and a more accurate Latin translation of the New Testament in 1516. His goal is that everyone be able to read the Bible, from the farmer in the field to the weaver at the loom. Erasmus’ Greek text forms the basis of the “textus receptus” and is used later by Martin Luther, William Tyndale and the King James translators.
Martin Luther translates the New Testament into German in 1522.
William Tyndale, priest and Oxford scholar, translates the New Testament from Greek (1525), but cannot get approval to publish it in England. He moves to Germany and prints Bibles, smuggling them into England in sacks of corn and flour. In 1535 he publishes part of the Old Testament translated from Hebrew. In 1536, Tyndale is strangled and burned at the stake. His final words are “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
Tyndale is called the “Father of the English Bible” because his translation forms the basis of the King James Version. Much of the style and vocabulary we know as “Biblical English” is traceable to his work.
The Coverdale Bible is translated by Miles Coverdale (1535) and dedicated to Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry VIII’s wives. This is the first complete Bible to be printed in English.
The Matthew’s Bible, translated by John Rogers under the pen name “Thomas Matthew”, is the first Bible published with the king’s permission (1537). Printed just one year after Tyndale’s death, it’s New Testament relies heavily on Tyndale’s version and even has a tribute to him on the last age of the Old Testament. Tyndale’s initials are printed in 2 1/2 inch block letters. Later Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII, entrusts Coverdale to revise Matthew’s Bible to make the Great Bible.
1539 Great Bible is placed in every church by order of Thomas Cranmer, archbishop under King Henry VIII. It is read aloud except during services and sermons. This Bible is chained to the church pillars to discourage theft.
[box] AD 1555[/box]
England’s Queen Mary bans Protestant translations of the English Bible. John Rogers and Thomas Cranmer are burned at the stake. Later some 300 men, women and children are also burned.
The Geneva Bible exiles from England flee to Geneva, Switzerland, and in 1560 print the Geneva Bible, a complete revision of the Great Bible with the Old Testament translated from Hebrew. The Geneva Bible contains theological notes from Protestant scholars John Calvin, Beza, IKnox and Whittingham. It is the first Bible to use Roman type instead of blackletter. This is the Bible of Shakespeare and the one carried to America by the Pilgrims in 1620. The 1640 edition is the first English Bible to omit the Apocrypha.
Bishops Bible. A new translation begins under Queen Elizabeth in 1568. It is translated by several bishops of the Church of England in answer to the Geneva Bible.
Rheims-Douai Bible was translated into English from the Latin Vulgate by Catholic Scholar Gregory Martin, while in exile in France (1582/1609.) It becomes the standard translation for the Catholic Church.
[box] AD 1600[/box]
King James Version or Authorized Version. King James I of England commissions 54 scholars to undertake a new Bible translation. Over the next six years, six teams of scholars using the Bishops Bible and Tyndale’s Bible as well as available Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, complete the new version in 1611. The King James Version (also called the “Authorized Version,” even though King James never gave the finished version his royal approval) is revised several times. The edition used today was revised in 1769. It is the most popular Bible for more than 300 years.
[box] AD 1800[/box]
Older Manuscripts Discovered! Between 1629 and 1947, seeral of the earliest known copies of the Bible are found.
Codex Alexandrinus, a copy of the New Testament from AD 400, perhaps the best copy of the book of Revelation, is made available to western scholars in 1629.
Codex Sinaiticus (earliest complete copy of the New Testament, copied in AD 350) is found in St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai.
The Revised Version (AD 1885). In 1870, scholars in England decide to revise the King James Version to reflect the findings from the manuscripts discovered the two previous centuries. Their goal is to use better Hebrew and Greek texts and to retranslate words based on new linguistic information about ancient Hebrew.
Codex Vaticanus (earliest and probably best copy known of the New Testament from AD 325) is released to scholars in 1889 by the Vatican Library.
[box] AD 1900[/box]
The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in a cave in 1947 by a shepherd, contain the oldest known copies of portions of the Old Testament. These copies were made between 100 BC and AD 100.
A Scroll of Isaiah that is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the oldest complete manuscript of any book of the Bible (copied around 100 BC). The copies of Isaiah discovered in the Qumran caves prove to be remarkably close to the standard Hebrew Bible. They give overwhelming confirmation of the reliability of the Masorete copies. During the 1900s more than a hundred New Testament manuscripts are found in Egypt.
A Ugaritic Grammar is published in the 1960s. Ugaritic is an ancient language similar to Hebrew and helps scholars understand Hebrew vocabulary and poetry.
Modern Translations. The knowledge from newly discovered manuscripts has led to hundreds of new translations.
1885 – The English Revised Version. A British revision of the King James Version.
1901 – American Standard Version (A.S.V.). Revision of the King James Version in American English.
[box] AD 2000[/box]
1926 – Moffatt Bible. A very popular modern language version.
1931 – Smith-Goodspeed, An American Translation. Modern American English.
1952 – The Revised Standard Version (R.S.V.). A revision of the A.S.V. New Testament revised 1971.
1958 – J.B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English. A paraphrase originally made for youth.
1966 – Jerusalem Bible. Translation by Catholic scholars in Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985.
1970 – New English Bible. “Timeless” modern English. Revised in 1989.
1970 – New American Bible (N.A.B.) Official version of the Catholic Church Revised New Testament in 1986.
1971 – The Living Bible. Popular paraphrase.
1971 – New American Standard Bible. Revision of the A.S.V. Very literal.
1976 – The Good News Bible (Today’s English Version). Vernacular English translation.
1978 – New International Version (N.I.V.). Dignified, readable.
1982 – New King James Version. Modernization of the K.J.V. using the same manuscripts.
1989 – Jewish New Testament. English translation using traditional Jewish expressions.
1989 – New Revised Standard Version “Gender neutral” revision of the R.S.V.
1991 – Contemporary English Version. “Natural, uncomplicated” English.
1995 – God’s Word. Contemporary English
1996 – New Living Translation. A revision of the Living Bible to make it a translation.