History and Layout of the Bible
In this post, I will be providing a summarized version of what was taught yesterday in the Foundation Course on the Bible. This will include a short history of how the Bible has come to us and an explanation of the features common in most English Bibles today. Notice, in talking about history we are not talking about the storyline contained in the Bible itself, which will be covered next week in class (10 A.M. in the sanctuary).
In thinking about the history of the Bible, it is helpful to think in 500-year increments, starting in 1500 B.C. (technically, 1446). Remember that the timeline counts down when we’re looking at “B.C.” and counts up when we look at “A.D.” At that time the first words were penned by Moses in Hebrew. The common language of the Israelite people during this time was Hebrew, so that makes sense. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible known commonly by 3 terms. 1) The Law (or Torah, which means law or instruction in Hebrew); 2) The Book(s) of Moses (sometimes just referred to as “Moses” in the New Testament); and 3) The Pentateuch (which just means 5 books).
From 1000B.C.-500 B.C. the rest of the Old Testament was written. Most of this was also written in Hebrew, but since they had gone into exile for a period in the 500’s, some parts were written in Aramaic. Aramaic and Hebrew are similar to Arabic, if that helps at all. Aramaic and Hebrew are written the same, and have close meanings, but they are slightly different.
In the four-hundred years before the New Testament, there were no more parts of the Bible written. During this time, however, the Greeks had taken over and the Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint, and it is often represented by the symbol “LXX” (both of these mean “70”).
When Jesus came and sent out his apostles, they were sent out into a mostly Greek-speaking population. As the writers of the New Testament, those that were members of the apostolic community, wrote letters, they wrote them in Greek.
So the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic (in small parts), and Greek.
Our next 500-year mark (really at the turn of the century from 300’s-400’s A.D.), is the translation of the Bible into Latin. The western part of the Roman Empire were mostly Latin speakers. So the Bible was translated by a man named Jerome from the original languages into Latin. This translation lasted the next thousand years.
As Europe passed into more local languages (French, German, English, etc.), the people were increasingly unable to understand the Scriptures in Latin. So, in the 1500’s, the Bible was translated by men like Martin Luther into German and William Tyndale into English (these were done from the original languages, not Latin. John Wycliffe had translated into English from the Latin in the 1300’s). The fruit of the efforts of English translators was finally the King James Bible.
In the past 500 years, English has changed while at the same time people have become more knowledgeable of the original languages. This has resulted in the production of all of the translations of the Bible we see today. These translations are better or worse depending on the faithfulness of the translators to the original languages. The translation that we use at the church is the English Standard Version (ESV), which is a faithful translation, but others that are good are the New American Standard Version (NASB), the old King James Version, and even the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB; though this one is sometimes difficult to follow along with when you are studying with people who have different translations).
Testament comes from the Latin word “Testamentum” which means covenant. The largest division in the Bible is between the Old Covenant (under Moses), or Old Testament, and the New Covenant (under Jesus), or New Testament. These divisions can be seen in 2 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews, among other places.
Genres (or what I call “Groupings”)
In the Old Testament, you have Law (the first 5 books, which were written by Moses), History (Joshua-Esther), Poetry (Job-Song of Solomon), and Prophetic books. The Prophetic books are further broken down into Major and Minor Prophets, which differ only in size rather than importance.
In the New Testament, there are 3 Genres (or groupings). These are History (the Four Gospels and Acts), Epistles (which are letters), and Apocalypse (Revelation). The Epistles are further broken down into Pauline (which are the first 13, and are basically in order of size) and General (or Catholic, which are Hebrews-Jude).
Chapter numbers were introduced in the Middle-Ages for the sake of making quick-reference to the same part in the text. Though they are not original, and are sometimes in the wrong part, they can be helpful for study and reference.
Verse numbers were also not in the original, but they provide a basic reference system for finding your place in the text and breaking it down into different parts of an author’s thought or argument.
Section Headings, Footnotes, and Cross-References
Section headings are included by a publisher and are usually obvious (they’ll often be bold and italicized). They seek to group together a section of verses and paragraphs into a complete thought.
The most common reasons for footnotes are:
- Literal Rendering- Check out 1 Peter 1:13
- Divided Manuscript Tradition- This tells us when some manuscripts differ on what is said at that point.
- Explanation of Names- Names have meaning in the Bible that is often only understood if you speak the original language.
Cross-references are something that we will talk about more in the session on how to study the Bible. Basically, they tell you where a concept is used elsewhere in the Bible.
Finally, a word about font issues.
- Small Caps- These are used for three reasons (depending on the translation)
- Lord=YHWH; Lord=Adonai; Lord God= Lord YHWH
- Quotations of Old Testament in the New
- Prescripts in the Psalms
- Capital Pronouns- These are when a translator believes that a pronoun (“he”) refers back to God.
- Italics- These are not for emphasis. Italics are used where the translators include words that are not in the original but were provided to help the translation.
- Red Letters- These are used where translators/publishers believe that Christ is speaking.
This was a lot of information, both in class and in this post. The hope is that this blog post will supplement what was taught in class. If you missed this first week’s lesson, and you would like to come for the next three, feel free to attend. If you’d like to show up a half hour early (9:30), we can work through what you missed the first week. Feel free to ask questions!