History of the Bible: How The Bible Came To Us
by Wesley Ringer


Why should we have some understanding of how the Bible came to us? Young children often think that milk comes in cartons from the grocery store. As they grow up they learn that milk comes from cows on the farm. Likewise many Christians have become so used to having Bibles that they have bought at a book store that they have almost no knowledge of where the present English translations of the Bible came from.

  1. Understanding how the Bible came to us gives us a confident foundation for our faith in the reliability the Bible. Evidence presented in a criminal case must be shown to have been protected by a proper chain of custody from being tampered with.
  2. We will be able to answer to critics when they claim that the New Testament contains 200,000 errors.
  3. We will have some understanding of why the newer translations such as the NIV and NASV  differ from the King James Versions at various points.

Important terms to remember:

Skeptics often claim that the Bible has been changed. However, it is important to define the terms that apply to the source of our English Bible.

Old Testament

The Bible comes from two main sources - Old and New Testaments - written in different languages. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, with some books written in Aramaic. The following are brief snap shots of the beginning and ending of the Old Testament and the reasons for the first two translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Aramaic and Greek


There are no known autographs of any books of the Old Testament. Below is a list of the languages in which the Old Testament books were written.


The following is a list of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament that are still in existence.


The Old Testament was translated very early into Aramaic and Greek.

The New Testament


45- 95 A.D. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts are all dated from 45-63 A.D. The Gospel of John and the Revelation may have been written as late as 95 A.D.


There are over 5,600 early Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence. The oldest manuscripts were written on papyrus and the later manuscripts were written on leather called parchment.


Early translations of the New Testament can give important insight into the underlying Greek manuscripts from which they were translated.

The Advent of Printing

Printing greatly aided the transmission of the biblical texts.

The Integrity of the Manuscript Evidence

As with any ancient book transmitted through a number of handwritten manuscripts, the question naturally arises as to how confident can we be that we have anything resembling the autograph. Let us now look at what evidences we have for the integrity of the New Testament manuscripts. Let us look at the number of manuscripts and how close they date to the autographs of the Bible as compared with other ancient writings of similar age.

  1. Tacitus, the Roman historian, wrote his Annals of Imperial Rome in about A.D. 116. Only one manuscript of his work remains. It was copied about 850 A.D.
  2. Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote The Jewish War shortly after 70 A.D. There are nine manuscripts in Greek which date from 1000-1200 A.D. and one Latin translation from around 400 A.D.
  3. Homer's Iliad was written around 800 B.C. It was as important to ancient Greeks as the Bible was to the Hebrews. There are over 650 manuscripts remaining but they date from 200 to 300 A.D. which is over a thousand years after the Iliad was written.
  4. The Old Testament autographs were written 1450 - 400 B. C.
    1. The Dead Sea Scrolls date between 200 B.C. to 70 A. D and date within 300 years from when the last book of the Old Testament was written.
    2. Two almost complete Greek LXX translations of the Old Testament date about 350 A. D.
    3. The oldest complete Hebrew Old Testament dates about 950 A. D.
    4. Genesis-Deuteronomy were written over 1200 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      Codex Vaticanus is an almost complete Greek translation of the Old Testament dating around 350 A.D. The Aleppo Codex is the oldest complete Old Testament manuscript in Hebrew and was copied around 950 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls date from within 200-300 years from the last book of the Old Testament. However since the five books of Moses were written about 1450- 1400 B.C. the Dead Sea Scrolls still come almost 1200 years after the first books of the Old Testament were written.

  5. The New Testament autographs were written between 45-95 A. D.
    1. There are 5,664 Greek manuscripts some dating as early as 125 A. D. and an complete New Testament that dates from 350 A. D.
    2. 8,000 to 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts.
    3. 8,000 manuscripts in Ethiopic, Coptic, Slavic, Syriac, and Armenian.
    4. In addition, the complete New Testament could be reproduced from the quotes that were made from it by the early church fathers in their letters and sermons.

Authorship and dating of the New Testament books

Skeptics and liberal Christian scholars both seek to date the New Testament books as late first century or early second century writings. They contend that these books were not written by eyewitnesses but rather by second or third hand sources. This allowed for the development of what they view as myths concerning Jesus. For example, they would deny that Jesus actually foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. Rather they would contend that later Christian writers "put these words into his mouth."

  1. Many of the New Testament books claim to be written by eyewitnesses.
    1. The Gospel of John claims to be written by the disciple of the Lord. Recent archeological research has confirmed both the existence of the Pool of Bethesda and that it had five porticoes as described in John 5:2. This correct reference to an incidental detail lends credibility to the claim that the Gospel of John was written by John who as an eyewitness knew Jerusalem before it was destroyed in 70 A. D.
    2. Paul signed his epistles with his own hand. He was writing to churches who knew him. These churches were able to authenticate that these epistles had come from his hands (Galatians 6:11). Clement an associate of Paul's wrote to the Corinthian Church in 97 A. D. urging them to heed the epistle that Paul had sent them.
  2. The following facts strongly suggest that both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written prior to 65 A.D. This lends credibility to the author's (Luke) claim to be an eyewitness to Paul's missionary journeys. This would date Mark prior to 65 A.D. and the Pauline epistles between 49-63 A.D.
    1. Acts records the beginning history of the church with persecutions and martyrdoms being mentioned repeatedly. Three men; Peter, Paul, and James the brother of Jesus all play leading roles throughout the book. They were all martyred by 67 A.D., but their martyrdoms are not recorded in Acts.
    2. The church in Jerusalem played a central role in the Book of Acts, but the destruction of the city in 70 A.D. was not mentioned. The Jewish historian Josephus cited the siege and destruction of Jerusalem as befalling the Jews because of their unjust killing of James the brother of Jesus.
    3. The Book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome under house arrest in 62 A.D. In 64 A.D., Nero blamed and persecuted the Christians for the fire that burned down the city of Rome. Paul himself was martyred by 65 A.D. in Rome. Again, neither the terrible persecution of the Christians in Rome nor Paul's martyrdom are mentioned.

      Conclusion: These books, Luke-Acts, were written while Luke was an eyewitness to many of the events, and had opportunity to research portions that he was not an eyewitness to.

The church fathers bear witness to even earlier New Testament manuscripts

The earliest manuscripts we have of major portions of the New Testament are p 45, p 46, p66, and p 75, and they date from 175-250 A. D. The early church fathers (97-180 A.D.) bear witness to even earlier New Testament manuscripts by quoting from all but one of the New Testament books. They are also in the position to authenticate those books, written by the apostles or their close associates, from later books such as the gospel of Thomas that claimed to have been written by the apostles, but were not.

  1. Clement (30-100 A.D.) wrote an epistle to the Corinthian Church around 97 A.D. He reminded them to heed the epistle that Paul had written to them years before. Recall that Clement had labored with Paul (Philippians 4:3). He quoted from the following New Testament books: Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Titus, 1 and 2 Peter, Hebrews, and James.
  2. The apostolic fathers Ignatius (30-107 A.D.), Polycarp (65-155 A.D.), and Papias (70-155 A.D.) cite verses from every New Testament book except 2 and 3 John. They thereby authenticated nearly the entire New Testament. Both Ignatius and Polycarp were disciples of the apostle John.
  3. Justin Martyr, (110-165 A.D.), cited verses from the following 13 books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and Revelation.
  4. Irenaeus, (120-202 A.D.), wrote a five volume work Against Heresies in which,
    1. He quoted from every book of the New Testament but 3 John.
    2. He quoted from the New Testament books over 1,200 times.

How was the New Testament canon determined?

The Early church had three criteria for determining what books were to be included or excluded from the Canon of the New Testament.

  1. First, the books must have apostolic authority-- that is, they must have been written either by the apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about, or by associates of the apostles.
  2. Second, there was the criterion of conformity to what was called the "rule of faith." In other words, was the document congruent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative.
  3. Third, there was the criterion of whether a document had enjoyed continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large.
  4. The gospel of Thomas is not included in the Canon of the New Testament for the following reasons.
    1. The gospel of Thomas fails the test of Apostolic authority. None of the early church fathers from Clement to Irenaeus ever quoted from the gospel of Thomas. This indicates that they either did not know of it or that they rejected it as spurious. In either case, the early church fathers fail to support the gospel of Thomas' claim to have been written by the apostle. It was believed to by written around 140 A.D. There is no evidence to support its purported claim to be written by the Apostle Thomas himself.
    2. The gospel of Thomas fails to conform to the rule of faith. It purports to contain 114 "secret sayings" of Jesus. Some of these are very similar to the sayings of Jesus recorded in the Four Gospels. For example the gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, "A city built on a high hill cannot be hidden." This reads the same as Matthew's Gospel except that high is added. But Thomas claims that Jesus said, "Split wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there." That concept is pantheistic. Thomas ends with the following saying that denies women salvation unless they are some how changed into being a man. "Let Mary go away from us, because women are not worthy of life." Jesus is quoted as saying, "Lo, I shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven."
    3. The gospel of Thomas fails the test of continuous usage and acceptance. The lack of manuscript evidence plus the failure of the early church fathers to quote from it or recognize it shows that it was not used or accepted in the early Church. Only two manuscripts are known of this "gospel." Until 1945 only a single fifth-century copy translation in Coptic had been found. Then in 1945 a Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. This compares very poorly to the thousands of manuscripts that authenticate the Four Gospels.

Textual Criticism: What Is It And Why It Is Necessary

Important terms:

Textual criticism is the method used to examine the vast number of manuscripts to determine the probably composition of the original autographs.

Textual variants and the integrity of the New Testament text

Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus'Many scholars have spent a lifetime of study of the textual variants. The following is the conclusion of the importance of these variants as they relate to the integrity of the New Testament text.

  1. There are over 200,000 variants in the New Testament alone. How do these variants effect our confidence that the New Testament has been faithfully handed down to us?
  2. These 200,000 variants are not as large as they seem. Remember that every misspelled word or an omission of a single word in any of the 5,600 manuscript would count as a variant.
  3. Johann Bengel 1687-1752 was very disturbed by the 30,000 variants that had recently been noted in Mill's edition of the Greek Testament. After extended study he came to the conclusion that the variant readings were fewer in number than might have been expected and that they did not shake any article of Christian doctrine.
  4. Westcott and Hort, in the 1870's, state that the New Testament text remains over 98.3 percent pure no matter whether one uses the Textus Receptus or their own Greek text which was largely based on Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.
  5. James White, on p. 40 of his book The King James Only Controversy states: "The reality is that the amount of variation between the two most extremely different manuscripts of the New Testament would not fundamentally altar the message of the Scriptures! I make this statement (1) fully aware of the wide range of textual variants in the New Testament, and (2) painfully aware of the strong attacks upon those who have made similar statements in the past."
  6. Scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix conclude, "The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts that any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure."
  7. When textual critics look at all 5,600 Greek New Testament manuscripts they find that they can group these manuscripts into text-types or families with other similar manuscripts. There are four text-types.

    Dating of Alexandrian and Byzantine Manuscripts

    Figure 1. Age differences between Alexandrian and Byzantine manuscripts.

    1. The Alexandrian text-type, found in most papyri and in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus all of which date prior to 350 A.D.
    2. The Western text-type, found both in Greek manuscripts and in translations into other languages, especially Latin.
    3. The Byzantine text-type, found in the vast majority of later Greek manuscripts. Over 90 percent of all 5,600 Greek New Testament manuscripts are of the Byzantine text-type. The Byzantine text-type is "fuller" or "longer" than other text-types, and this is taken as evidence of a later origin. The reason that we have so many manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type is because the Byzantine Empire remained Greek speaking and Orthodox Christian until Islamic Turks overran its capital, Constantinople, in 1453. Constantinople is now called Istanbul and is Turkey's largest city, although no longer its capital.
    4. The Caesaarean text-type, disputed by some, found in p 45 and a few other manuscripts.

Why does the KJV differ from the NIV?

The reason the King James version differ from the NASV and the NIV in a number of readings is because it is translated from a different text-type than they are.

  1. The King James Version was translated from Erasmus' printed Greek New Testament which made use of only five Greek manuscripts the oldest of which dated to the 1,100 A.D. These manuscripts were examples of the Byzantine text-type.
  2. The NASV and the NIV make use of the United Bible Societies 4th Edition 1968 of the New Testament. This edition of the Greek New Testament relies more heavily on the Alexandrian text-type while making use of all 5,664 Greek manuscripts. The reasons that the NASV and NIV find the Alexandrian text-type more reliable are the following:
    1. This text-type uses manuscripts date from 175-350 A.D. which includes most of the papyri, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.
    2. The church fathers from 97-350 A.D. used this text-type when they quoted the New Testament.
    3. The early translations of the New Testament used the Alexandrian text-type.

Examples that show why the KJV differs from the NIV and NASV in certain verses

In the following examples the King James Version differs from the NIV, and NASV. because it bases it's translation on the Byzantine text-type and the NIV and NASV base theirs on the Alexandrian text-type.

  1. KJV 1 John 5:7-8 "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one."
    NIV 1 John 5:7 "For there are three that testify: v. 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood: and the three are in agreement."
    1. When Erasmus first printed the Greek New Testament in 1514 it did not contain the words "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth," because they were not found in any of the Greek manuscripts that Erasmus looked at.
    2. These words were not quoted by any of the Greek church fathers. They most certainly would have been used by the church fathers in their 3rd and 4th century letters if found in the Greek manuscripts available to them.
    3. These words are not found in any ancient versions of the New Testament. These include Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic, nor in the Old Latin in its early form.
    4. These words begin to appear in marginal notes in the Latin New Testament beginning in the fifth century. From the sixth century onward these words are found more and more frequently.
    5. Erasmus finally agreed to put these words into new editions of his Greek New Testament if his critic's could find one Greek manuscript that contained these words. It appears that his critics manufactured manuscripts to include these words.
    6. These additional words are found in only eight manuscripts as a variant reading written in the margin. Seven of these manuscripts date from the sixteenth century and one is a tenth century manuscript.
    7. Erasmus' New Testament became the basis for the Greek New Testament, "Textus Receptus", which the King James translators used as the basis for their translation of the New Testament into English.
  2. Mark 16 verses 9-20 are found in the King James Version. However, both the NASV and the NIV note that these verses are not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark (see The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20).
    1. Neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Codex Vaticanus have Mark 16:9-20.
    2. Mark 16:9-20 is also absent from some Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian manuscripts.
    3. Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses.
    4. 4. The earliest church father to note the longer ending of Mark 16:9-20 was Irenaeus, around 180 A. D.
  3. Luke 2:14 reads:

    KJV: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men."
    NIV: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

    The Greek text from which these two versions are translated differ by only one letter. The NIV is translated from manuscripts that have an "s" on the end of the Greek word for good will. This reading is supported by the oldest Alexandrine text-types.

Related Resources Top of page

The Indestructible Book DVD SetThe Indestructible Book DVD. A compelling 5-program examination of the origin of the Bible. Filmed on location. An excellent resource for a short Bible study on the origin and preservation of the Bible.

Related Pages Top of page


The following is a list of books that deal with the issue of how the Bible came to us. I have listed them from the easiest to most the complex.

  1. Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998
  2. White, James R. The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1995.
  3. Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.
  4. Aland, Kurt and Barbara. The Text of The New Testament an Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995
  5. Wurthwein, Ernst. The Text of The Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995
  6. Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament. Stuttgart, United Bible Societies, 1995.

Historical Criticism

  1. History is a closed continuum of cause and effect. This first principle rejects even the possibility of God’s supernatural intervention in the affairs of mankind.
  2. The principle of analogy: if it is possible now it was possible then. If it is not possible now it was not possible then. This second principle would reject the possibility of any supernatural miracle. Men dead for three days do not now rise from the dead. Therefore, Jesus Christ could not have risen from the dead, nor could he have raised Lazarus from the dead.
  3. You decide what is logical and what is not. This principle allows for the much speculation. If it does not seem logical to you that men can walk on the water then Jesus did not walk on the water.

Last updated September 18, 2007


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