A Brief History of Bible Manuscripts and Translations
The twenty-seven books of the New
Testament were written in the second half of the first century after
Christ. Not one of the original writings is preserved. However, early
Christians carefully preserved copies of these sacred writings, taking the
greatest care to eliminate copyist errors. Syria became the center of such
Nevertheless, within a century of the
writing of the New Testament canon, serious alterations were made,
especially by scribes in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. These men were
motivated by a desire to support their Gnostic errors, which included the
view that Christ was not a member of the Godhead. Once scribes tampered
with Scripture they became increasingly careless in their copying
techniques, introducing numerous mistakes. However, the scribes of Syria
did not deviate from their meticulous copying methods.
From these two copyist perspectives, two
quite different streams of Greek manuscripts emerged. The Eastern stream,
which became centered on Syria and Constantinople, remained true to the
original writings of the apostles, while the Western stream, centered on
Alexandria and Rome, was markedly flawed by both deliberate and careless
Early in the fourth century, Emperor
Constantine commissioned Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, to prepare fifty
copies of the New Testament. Eusebius chose to copy the flawed Western
manuscripts. His decision was influenced by his admiration of Origen, who
himself was a corrupter of Holy Writ.
It is thought that two of Eusebiusí
copies survive in the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. These
copies contain many errors, and during the sixth and the seventh centuries
at least ten different scribes attempted to make corrections to bring them
somewhat closer to the valid Eastern manuscripts. Despite this effort,
deliberate and careless errors remained in great numbers.
Knowledge of the errors did not prevent
Jerome from using these faulty manuscripts as a basis for his Latin
version of the Bible. His translation became the official Scripture of the
Roman Catholic Church and is known as the Latin Vulgate. Disregarding all
evidence to the contrary, the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century
proclaimed the Latin Vulgate to be free from error.
But despite the great influence of the
Papacy, true Christians were not deceived. Believers such as the Waldenses
and the Gallic church of France and the Celtic church of Britain refused
such perversion of Godís Word and used only those translations arising
from the Eastern stream. This practice was also true of Godís churches
in Ethiopia, Persia, India, and China.
When the Turks conquered Constantinople
and destroyed the Byzantine Empire in 1453, men escaped to the West
bringing priceless biblical and secular manuscripts with them. These
manuscripts enlightened the dense darkness of the Middle Ages, a darkness
directly attributable to Roman Catholic domination. The revelations of
these manuscripts opened minds to learning and also to the pure, precious
Word of God. The Renaissance spread throughout Europe like a wildfire, and
shortly the Reformation arose.
Godís servants perceived that it was
the Word of God in the language of the common people which opened minds to
truth and dispelled the errors of the Papacy. As nation after nation threw
off the shackles of Catholicism and embraced a pure faith based upon the
inerrant Word of God, great fear gripped the leadership in Rome. The
Council of Trent was called in 1545 to find a means to stem the advance of
Perceptively, the bishops gathered at
the Council acknowledged that the free distribution of the Bible to all
men would prove the death knell of the Roman Catholic Church. Wherever men
and women read this precious Book, the errors of Catholicism were
Gladly would these wily bishops have
cast every Bible into a sea of flames as they had done in previous
generations, but their coercive power had disappeared from much of Europe.
Thus more subtle means were required to reverse the great advance of
scriptural truth. Some less farsighted bishops even suggested that the
Roman Catholic Church, too, endorse the Bible as the sole source of faith.
They reasoned that they might be able to wean men and women from
Protestantism if they proclaimed such a view. But the Jesuits saw that
such a stand, rather than serving to rescue the Catholic faith, would seal
its doom. With the Archbishop of Reggio as their spokesman, the Jesuits
totally overthrew this faulted tactic by pointing out that there was no
scriptural basis for Sundaykeeping, and unless the church was prepared to
return to Sabbathkeeping, they must uphold the authority of the tradition
of the church above that of the Scriptures.
The Archbishop of Reggioís successful
argument won a continued place for church tradition as the major source of
Catholic doctrine, but it did not provide a solution to the advance of
Protestantism and the supremacy of Scripture in the hearts of Protestants.
The Jesuits thus devised a new strategy. While having little regard for
the Bible, they nevertheless went to Douay and Rheims in France and
translated the Bible into the English language using the Latin Vulgate as
its basis, although resorting to the original languages in some areas.
The Jesuits were not bothered by the
faultiness of their new translation; it furthered their aims. Their faith
depended not upon Godís Word, but rather upon church tradition. Accuracy
was not vital to their undertaking, and inaccuracies would assist them in
their aim to weaken Protestant faith in Godís Word. It is the corruption
of Godís Word which turns men and women to the authority of men and the
church in place of the Bible.
For three centuries the design of the
Jesuits met with scant success. Protestants were acutely aware of the
perversions of the Western manuscripts and eschewed them. Men such as
William Tyndale died at the stake rather than submit to a perverted
Scripture. The Reformers of Europe united to bring before Godís flock
the precious truths of the pure Word of God. It was in this commitment of
fidelity to Godís Word that the King James Version of the Bible was
undertaken by godly men.
But in the nineteenth century the
Jesuits penetrated the Anglican Church in force. This infiltration led to
the formation of what became known as the Oxford movement early in that
century. This movement among young Anglican clerics upheld the
re-introduction of Catholic practices such as the confession, the
adoration of Mary, and the celebration of the Mass, into the Anglican
When in the 1870s the archbishopric of
Canterbury undertook a revision of the King James Version of the Bible,
the revision committeeís two most influential figures, Doctors Westcott
and Hort, were greatly under the influence of the Oxford movement. They
encouraged the translators to discard the pure Eastern manuscripts upon
which the Protestant Reformation and its Bible were based and to revert to
the perverted Western manuscripts, ever the ally of Catholicism.
Thus the Revised Version of 1881
transformed the nature of the English-language Scripture. This version,
and the American Revised Version which followed twenty years later and
which was equally faulted, did not initially have a profound influence in
Protestantism, for the King James Version remained the standard Bible of
But the appearance of the Revised
Standard Version of the Bible in the second half of the twentieth century,
followed by a plethora of new translations, saw the scheme of the Jesuits
finally implemented. Today most Protestants have discarded the trusted
King James Version and now cheerfully use Bibles which are based upon
Catholic manuscripts. All the best-known modern translations with the
exception of the New King James Version (also known as the new Authorized
Version) distort Scripture. These translations include the New
International Version, the New English Bible, Todayís English Version,
Phillipsí translation, and a host of others.
Is it any wonder that the Catholics
openly rejoiced at the appearance of the Revised Version, proclaiming that
its use would be the death knell of Protestantism? The use of these
translations has seriously weakened the Protestant perception of the
errors of Rome. Already the effects of the use of these translations,
initially sponsored by theologians, are plain to see.