Bible History: A Basic Rundown

This month, we celebrate a volume considered subversive, mystical, absurd, divisive, mysterious, complex, insightful, inspirational, life-changing — epiphanic. It’s here as it has always been and its trajectory throughout history shows us that it’ll be here to stay for quite some time — and probably more. But how did it get here in the first place? How did we get the Bible?

In The Beginning Was The Word

It generally starts as divine revelation. The Bible itself pulls no legs whenever it alludes to the spoken word as a vital tool for communion. Like most ancient texts, it started with word-of-mouth in the times wherein writing hasn’t caught up just yet. The spirit of God would inspire men to think and say things as much as to narrate whole epics such as Job to be preserved by oral tradition.

Aside from spiritual inspiration, it can also be as plain as God audibly communicating with the biblical writers (as in the case of Moses and the Burning Bush; instructions to prophets; Jesus’s teachings; Paul’s Damascus encounter; Revelation; etc.) or technically writing parts of the text Himself (as in the case of the first version of the Ten Commandments). 

For It Is Written

Writing with ink and parchment was discovered, and the world was never the same — and so was the way information was preserved. Historical accounts, were recorded on scrolls and kept in secured places. They are copied by hand to another medium by trusted people in order to preserve the text.

From Genesis

The Old Testament, is the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) used by the Jews. The book line-up remained unchanged for as early as 140 BC. The earliest discovered writings are a couple of fragments written for amulets, the “Silver Scrolls”. It contains a variety of literary styles: historical accounts, wisdom literature, poetry, down to ethno-religious legislation written by a succession of prophets, kings, judges, etc. whose names don their respective books.

To Revelation

Scholars agree that the New Testament is the most well-preserved ancient work of literature in the world with a manuscript count reaching thousands pre-dating the reign of Emperor Constantine. The earliest discoveries are fragments from the Book of John, dated as early as the mid-2nd century. It mostly contains letters or epistles; the writings of the Apostle Paul to  churches comprising the majority of it. The gospels are biographies on the life and work of Jesus. The collection was an organic consensus among early Christian believers on what was deemed authoritative mostly on the basis of authorship and content and was starting to solidify for as early as 170 AD.

In Multiple Languages

The Bible first comes in Hebrew (for the Old Testament), Koine Greek, and Aramaic (for the New Testament). The Old Testament was first translated from Hebrew to Greek readers around 3rd to 1st Century BC; the Septuagint. In about 400 AD, a Jerome translated the whole Bible into the Latin Vulgate. John Wyclife translated it to the predecessor of the modern English language to which William Tyndale would then translate to while reintroducing the use of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts alongside the Latin Vulgate. 1611 marks the birth of the renowned King James Version; the first English bible for mass consumption.

Copy That

The need for efficient reproduction of writings led to the invention of many techniques with the moveable type printing press of Johannes Gutenberg around the 1430s starting the European printing revolution — and the world was never the same, yet again. This allowed the Bible to be reproduced in exponential quantities and distributed to more places to more people’s hands.

Do You Copy?

The Bible took its very first digital form within the 1950s for academic use. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that a digital Bible was first made commercially available coinciding with the success of the personal computer foreran by Apple II. The early years of the internet age in the 90s further opened public access to the Bible. BibleGateway was the first in 1993. And just a year after the first commercially successful smartphone was released, the arguably most popular Bible app to date sprang into existence: the YouVersion app in 2008. Today this app features 1,200 Bible versions in over 900 languages, many of which include audio versions.

The Word Remains

Throughout history, the Bible has tangibly established itself as more than a material volume. Regardless of the time and its dominant medium, it remains. Should the way it has done so invite you to it, it is right where it is meant to be: within your reach.

“so shall be my word that goes out from my mouth.
    It shall not return to me without success,
but shall accomplish what I desire
    and be successful in the thing for which I sent it.”  — Isaiah 55:11 (LEB)

Your life could be the Bible’s next stop.

Further Reading/References

“Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation” (Christian Foundations Series; Vol. 2) by Donald G. Bolesch

The Books and The Parchments” by F. F. Bruce

“How We Got the Bible” by Neil R. Lightfoot

“The Canon of the Bible” by Samuel Davidson

“The Making of a Canon: Impact of the Old Testament Scriptures in the Christian Canon Development” by Kwaku Boamah

“Cover The Bible” by Ralph W. Neighbour

“Bible Software History 101” by W. Hall Harris III

“Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age” by Bill Kovarik


About the Writer

Basically a Christian, Timothy Diokno (Tim) is a TLW volunteer who is a Fine Arts major in Visual Communications graduate and a full-time graphic artist. If he’s not binging through a rabbit-hole of articles or YouTube videos on a weekend, he’s probably a.) with his girlfriend, b.) working on a personal project, or c.) talking to some friend about more interesting things.