How Old Is The Bible
New research provides more clues about the age of the world’s most popular book.
Some in the collection of texts that comprise the Bible are sacred to over 54% of the worlds population who believe in Abrahamic religions. These include Christianity, Islam, Judaism and smaller religions like Rastafari. Of course, there are big differences between the religions in which particular stories they believe in and how they believe in them, but the oldest Biblical stories are at the core of all the major Abrahamic traditions.
Suffice it to say, this kind of writing success is without parallel in its popularity, influencing generations of humans for millennia. While there can be plenty of arguments about the origins of various Biblical texts, what does science have to say about how old they are?
The first thing to point out is that, of course, there is no one Bible. There have been different versions in history and different religions interpret the texts in their own way, adding or taking away. The commonly-used English-language version is the King James Bible, which was printed in 1611. But the oldest text would have to be the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh.
New high-tech research used ground-breaking technology of virtual unwrapping to read a highly-damaged ancient scroll, finding it to contain the Old Testament Book of Leviticus and dating it to 300 A.D. The so-called En-Gedi scroll thus became one of the oldest Biblical texts in existence. But not the oldest.
Was The New Testament Written In Hebrew
Many people assume that the New Testament was written in Hebrew as well, but by the time the gospels were being written, many Jews didnt even speak Hebrew anymore. Rome had conquered Greece, and the influence of Greek culture had saturated the empire. Whats interesting about Biblical Greek is that it didnt use a high-class or complicated style it was written in koine , a language that could be understood by almost anyone, educated or not.
Its amazing to see how the Word of God has traveled through languages and cultures. It began in the language of his chosen people, adopted the language of the Roman world, and now exists in over 2,000 different languages. Far from being a static, one-language text, the Bible actually embraces translation and cross-language accessibility by its very nature. Whether you read the Bible in its original languages or in one of thousands of modern tongues, its a blessing to be able to read Gods word today just as it was read thousands of years ago.
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The Integrity Of The Manuscript Evidence
As with any ancient book transmitted through a number of handwrittenmanuscripts, the question naturally arises as to how confident can we be that wehave anything resembling the autograph. Let us nowlook at what evidences we have for the integrity of the New Testamentmanuscripts. 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.
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The Original Bible And The Dead Sea Scrolls
Can the scrolls help expose the original Bible language within the Masoretic Text and Septuagint?
The Song of Moses in the Masoretic Text describes the Most High dividing the nations according to number of the sons of Israel. This Dead Sea Scroll fragment and the third-century B.C.E. translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Greek , however, say the nations were divided according to the sons of Elohim . What did the original Bible text say?
Which is the original Bible? How do we decide which of these two ancient texts is more authoritative? In Searching for the Original Bible in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scholar and long-time editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls publication team Emanuel Tov suggests we turn to the Dead Sea Scrolls to help us compare the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint.
Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why they are important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity, and Judaism.
The Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the most iconic of the Dead Sea Scrolls, yet it does not reflect the original language of the Bible. Tov calls it a classroom example of what an inferior text looks like, with its manifold contextual changes, harmonizations, grammatical adaptions, etc.
Archaeological And Historical Research
Biblical archaeology is the archaeology that relates to and sheds light upon the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures . It is used to help determine the lifestyle and practices of people living in biblical times. There are a wide range of interpretations in the field of biblical archaeology. One broad division includes biblical maximalism which generally takes the view that most of the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible is based on history although it is presented through the religious viewpoint of its time. It is considered to be the opposite of biblical minimalism which considers the Bible to be a purely post-exilic composition. Even among those scholars who adhere to biblical minimalism, the Bible is a historical document containing first-hand information on the Hellenistic and Roman eras, and there is universal scholarly consensus that the events of the 6th century BCE Babylonian captivity have a basis in history.
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Textual Variants And The Integrity Of The New Testament Text
Many scholars have spent a lifetime of study of the textual variants. Thefollowing is the conclusion of the importance of these variants as they relateto the integrity of the New Testament text.
When Was The Old Testament Compiled
The story of how the Old Testament books of the Bible is a saga of Gods faithfulness. The Old Testament books were collected and compiled is an epic narrative worthy of its own book . While some rabbis point to a general assembly of religious leaders that recognized the books of the Bible, this did not happen until well after the people of God were already using the Scriptures in worship. Therefore, just as in the development of the New Testament, the Old Testament books of the Bible were recognized by the people of God as the Word of God. Indeed, the development of the Old Testament seems to have taken place according to turning points in Israels history. This would include the Exodus, the taking of Canaan, the appearance of the monarchy in Israel with Saul and then David, the fall of Jerusalem and the exile in Babylon. And, finally, the restoration of the Israelite people to Jerusalem and the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. Zondervan Academic has an excellent summary in their article How Did We Get the Old Testament?
And Don Stewart with BlueLetterBible.org explains,
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Key People And Events That Impacted The Very First Bible
33 A.D. – 47 A.D.
A theological war raged between the first Christians led by the apostle Paul against the judaizers demanding submission to the Hebrew laws , represented by Peter and James. Essentially it was a schism of Gospel vs. Hebrew and it deeply divided the young church.
Council of Jerusalem
The situation finally came to a head in 48 A.D. at the Council of Jerusalem where the first Christians, including Peter, Paul and James, agreed the Hebrew laws were antithetical to the gospel of Christ. The church stands united under Christian canon.
The Very First Bible
, a shipbuilder and son of the Bishop of Pontus – compiles, formats and transcribes the first Christian bible and presents it to the Apostle John. It did not contain a Hebrew bible .
Council of Nicaea
Emperor Constantine, a worshipper of the Roman Sun God, convenes the Council of Nicaea and orders the Hebrew bible be added to the Christian bible. The Gospel of the Lord is also removed and replaced with scriptures of unknown origin.
Judaized Bibles Published
Six years after the council disbands, Constantine orders fifty of the edited bibles published and religious scholars confirm they contained the Hebrew bible and several new gospels.
Council of Rome
The Very First Bible Unchanged
How The Books Of The New Testament Were Determined
The early church accepted the New Testament books almost as soon as they were written. Its already been mentioned that the writers were friends of Jesus or his immediate followers, men to whom Jesus had entrusted the leadership of the early church. The Gospel writers Matthew and John were some of Jesus’ closest followers. Mark and Luke were companions of the apostles, having access to the apostles’ account of Jesus’ life.
The other New Testament writers had immediate access to Jesus as well: James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus who initially did not believe in him. Peter was one of the 12 apostles. Paul started out as a violent opponent of Christianity and a member of the religious ruling class, but he became an ardent follower of Jesus, convinced that Jesus rose from the dead.
The reports in the New Testament books lined up with what thousands of eyewitnesses had seen for themselves.
When other books were written hundreds of years later, it wasn’t difficult for the church to spot them as forgeries. For example, the Gospel of Judas was written by the Gnostic sect, around 130-170 A.D., long after Judas’ death. The Gospel of Thomas, written around 140 A.D., is another example of a counterfeit writing erroneously bearing an apostles’ name. These and other Gnostic gospels conflicted with the known teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament, and often contained numerous historical and geographical errors.7
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When Was The First Complete Bible Published
Well, that is a hard one. Naturally, the Bible developed with Hebrew Scriptures and the Scriptures after Jesus Christ on through to the death of the Apostle John. The Old Covenant text in Hebrew was already being recorded on skins four hundred years before our Lord Jesus incarnate birth. Jesus knew the Bible as the lectionary was read in his local synagogue. The Gospel of Mark was well-circulated in the early years after Jesus ascension. The letters of Paul and Peter, Luke and Acts by Luke, and the other letters were copied and disseminated amongst the local Christian communities in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth .
But we can say that there was the first work published that we know of that contained the Old and New Testaments . This Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus , was published around 350 AD.5 Until that discovery by Dr. Constantin von Tischendorf in 1844, the Codex Vaticanus was the only surviving Bible from the early Church. We must remember, however, that though those documents survived, that doesnt mean there were not earlier editions. For example, I do not believe that I have the first Bible I used in the pastoral ministry. I used it up. So, too, we have what has remained and what has been found. If you are ever in London, go to the British Museum and you will see the full New Testament at its earliest publication, with much of the Old Testament. But how about the Bible in English?
The Old Testament Was Already Put Together By The Time Of Jesus
- M.A., Christian Studies, Union University
- B.A., English Literature, Wheaton College
Determining when the Bible was written poses challenges because it isn’t a single book. It’s a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors over more than 2,000 years.
So there are two ways to answer the question, “When was the Bible written?” The first is to identify the original dates for each of the Bible’s 66 books. The second, the focus here is to describe how and when all 66 books were collected in a single volume.
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New Testament: Who Wrote The Gospels
Just as the Old Testament chronicles the story of the Israelites in the millennium or so leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, the New Testament records Jesuss life, from his birth and teachings to his death and later resurrection, a narrative that forms the fundamental basis of Christianity. Beginning around 70 A.D., about four decades after Jesuss crucifixion , four anonymously written chronicles of his life emerged that would become central documents in the Christian faith. Named for Jesuss most devoted earthly disciples, or apostlesMatthew, Mark, Luke and Johnthe four canonical Gospels were traditionally thought to be eyewitness accounts of Jesuss life, death and resurrection.
12th-13th century depiction of evangelists Luke and Matthew writing the Gospels.
But for more than a century, scholars have generally agreed that the Gospels, like many of the books of the New Testament, were not actually written by the people to whom they are attributed. In fact, it seems clear that the stories that form the basis of Christianity were first communicated orally, and passed down from generation to generation, before they were collected and written down.
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Implications Of Textual Criticism Re The Bible
So what can we conclude from this? Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure the New Testament is substantiated to a much higher degree than any other classical work of antiquity. The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following quote :
To be skeptical of the resultant text of the N.T. is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.
What he is saying is that to be consistent, if we decide to doubt the reliability of the preservation of the Bible we may as well discard all that we know about classical history in general and this no informed historian has ever done. We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone since the earliest extant MSSs pre-date these events. For example, we know that no overly zealous medieval monk added in the miracles of Jesus to the Biblical account, since we have manuscripts that pre-date the medieval monks and all these pre-dated manuscripts also contain the miraculous accounts of Jesus.
Video of University Presentation on Bible text reliability
Here is a short video of a presentation I did at a university on the textual reliability of the New Testament.
The Old Testament is different enough that it warrants its own discussion which is highlighted in the 7 minute video here.
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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 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.