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What Is The Bible Anway?




This is a little different, it is something that I didn't write or research for a change. I found it somewhere on the internet sometime back and don't really remember where. I wish I could, I would like to correspond with the author, I admire his work. I think you folks will enjoy this but it is a little lenghty. It might provide some ammo against KJV fundies:


What is the Bible anyway?


Most Bibles inform the reader in their introductions that ‘Bible’ means a collection of books, from the Greek word biblia. However, I would say that we should stop referring to ‘a collection of books’ as THE Bible and begin to refer to them as A Bible.


Anyone who looks into the history and development of the Bibles that we have today knows that there is a vast range of Bibles to choose from. Even if we are only talking about the English translation, we still have a wide range of Bibles to choose from.

If I use myself as an example, as someone who has no religious attachments and is only studying the Bible (at the moment at least) as a collection of ancient texts, can I go to a bookshop and buy THE Bible? This may appear to be a bit of a silly question but if I elaborate then you can see the dilemma facing the non-attached enquirer.


For a start, which version would I buy? I could choose from the King James Version widely known as the Authorized Version (AV), or I could have a nice Revised English Bible (REB), a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), or perhaps a New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), or even the Good News Bible (GNB), this is just a small amount of the variety of Bibles on offer.


So how would I go about picking a Bible? One of the first things I would notice is that not all Bibles have the same contents; some have more books than other versions for example. Some have an Old Testament section that is much longer than others, and some even have an entire section devoted to the ‘Apocrypha’, which is missing from other versions. Anyone comparing the NJB with the AV may be surprised just how much longer the NJB is, it is also much longer than the NIV as well. Even individual Bibles are available in longer and shorter versions; this is especially true of the REB and the NRSV.

Assuming that you can get your hands on the longer REB and NRSV you may be very surprised at just how different the Old Testament sections will be. The NJB contains more books than the AV of King James, the REB is again contains more books than the NJB and finally, the NRSV contains yet more books!


So we have already four alternative versions to choose from but it gets more complicated, the bookshop may just happen to have a copy of the GNB for Catholics, or a Jewish translation of the Old Testament published by the Jewish Publication Society of America. This latter version would cause more confusion if, for example, it was compared to the AV you would discover that from 2 Kings onwards the books appear in a different order. Of course this is down to the differences between how the various producers of Bibles since the Reformation have viewed the Old Testament books and the Apocrypha; this has caused some tremendous variety of Bibles to choose from.


The division between the Old Testament and the Apocrypha goes way back to disputes in the early church as to whether the Hebrew or the Greek versions of the Old Testament was to be accepted as authoritative. The Hebrew version is essentially the same as the Old Testament that is found in today’s Protestant Bibles, but again these are in a slightly different sequence. The Greek version is known as the Septuagint and is longer than the Hebrew version as it contains books that were not originally written in Hebrew or books for which the original Hebrew was no longer available. The Greek version triumphed over the Hebrew version and the Latin Vulgate, which contained the longer Greek version, became the standard version for the Western Church until the Reformation.


During the Reformation there was a renewed interest in translating the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek into languages such as German and English and this is where more confusion enters the scene, what could be done about those books in the Septuagint that had no Hebrew predecessor? Well Andreas Karlstadt argued that it should only be the works that existed in Hebrew that were canonical, and he designated the rest as Apocrypha. Luther put Karlstadt’s idea into practice when he compiled a Bible in 1534, in which the Apocryphal books were placed after the Old Testament and prefaced by the comment that these books were not on the same level as Holy Scripture but were useful and good for reading. The first printed Bible by Myles Coverdale included all Luther’s books except the Prayer of Manasseh, but in a different order yet again. The first English Bible to include the Prayer of Manasseh was Matthew’s Bible of 1537, which was produced by John Rogers working under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew.

Coverdale and Rogers had laid the foundations for the order of the books of Protestant Bibles, and soon after there appeared the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishop’s Bible (1568), and eventually, the Authorized Version of 1611. You would think that all these aforementioned permutations of different versions would be enough to give anyone choosing a Bible a headache, but it gets worse! In the 17th century the Apocrypha came under attack and people started producing Bibles without the Apocrypha. For example, an edition of the 1640 Geneva Bible has no Apocrypha and the Westminster Confession of Faith declared in 1648 that the Apocrypha were no longer to be used in the Church of God. The Bible then was stilled played around with and altered as much as two thousand years after the first books were written, so much for the perfectly preserved word of God, it appears that it has been tampered with more than any other collection of books in the history of the world.


There is even more problems encountered whilst trying to decide which Bible to buy when it is discovered that, in regard to the Apocrypha, what we have read so far only concerns the Protestant Bibles in English. Whilst the Apocrypha was demoted to a subordinate text during the Reformation, the council of Trent affirmed the equal status of the Apocryphal books with the rest of the Old Testament books in the Roman Catholic Bibles. However, the aforementioned Prayer of Manasseh and 1 and 2 Esdras (called 3 and 4 Ezra) were not included. The 1611 KJV (AV) is the Bible preferred by some Protestant groups verging on fundamentalism, I am sure a lot of us have experienced the psychosis known as King James Onlyism, which usually involves a complete lack of knowledge of the history of the evolution of the KJV by the deluded individual.

While the AV initially included the Apocrypha, the Protestant groups that advocate the AV reject the Apocrypha, and therefore demand for the AV has only been a demand for the Old and New Testaments. It was difficult to purchase a copy of the AV with Apocrypha until Oxford University Press recently reissued the AV with Apocrypha in 1997 (Authorized King James Version, with the Apocrypha, World Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1997). Since the NIV is used by principally conservative churches with their traditional rejection of the Apocrypha, this version was, until recently only available without the Apocrypha. The New Jerusalem Bible though is a Roman Catholic Bible, with the Apocrypha integrated into the Old Testament rather than set aside into an appendix.


So if I was to go and try to buy THE Bible I really cannot be sure what I should be buying. I have all these different Bibles, Protestant Bibles, Catholic Bibles, and at least one Bible that claims to represent Protestants, Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox churches (RSV). I suppose if the differences were just down to the differing amount of books in each Bible them it wouldn’t be that bad, but the truth is there are some major differences in the books that are included in all Bibles.


First of all there are some textual differences to take into consideration.

To find out how these textual found their way into the Bibles it is necessary to find out where the texts originated. The Bibles of the 16th and 17th centuries CE were obviously translated from earlier texts, but how early were they, how close to the events they describe were they written? The Old Testament in the Bibles mentioned earlier, was translated mostly from a medieval Hebrew text of the 10th century CE, the Apocrypha was based mainly on medieval Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint and the New Testament has such a wealth of manuscripts available, some as early as the second century CE, that the catalogue of their various readings and the decision as to which are closest to what the biblical writers wrote would take months of typing to cover. But for this exercise, to examine some textual differences, the New Testament will provide the examples.


When the New Testament part of the Revised Version was published in 1881, the readers of the AV were absolutely horrified, they were upset because many of passages that they were familiar with are missing from the RV. A good example of one of these revisions is the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2-4, the RV contains a much shorter version, a version that is supported by texts that were written much earlier than the ones used for the AV.

KJV of Luke 11:2-4:

And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

The RV version:

And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation”.

The authors of the AV obviously were using an erroneous text, or they employed poetic license, when they translated these verses into English. This is not an isolated example, there are far more, like this one from The Gospel of John, which has a section missing at 5:3-5 in the RV.

The AV John 5:3-5:

In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

The RV version:

In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered

One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

Even the St. Paul is not spared from the erroneous recordings of the AV; a reference to his conversion account in the AV has been shown to be embellished.

AV of Acts 9:5-6:

“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”

The same example from the RV:

“And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

The most infamous variation can be found at 1 John 5:7

AV: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

In the RV however, this verse is numbered verse 8 and reads `For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.' This is quite a significant variation. A person could quite easily buy a RV of the Bible and be under the impression that the three that bear witness in heaven are the Spirit, the water and the blood, imagine how confused that person could be if a AV user comes along and gives them their check list of the three that bear witness?


The reason for these differences is that the AV is a translation of a printed edition of the Greek New Testament that first appeared in Paris in 1550. In a later edition of this text (1633) published by Elzevir in Leyden , it was claimed that it was ‘the text which is now received by all’. This led to it being known as the Textus Receptus or ‘Received Text.’

The truth of the matter is that the Textus Receptus was based upon comparatively late manuscripts of the New Testament and in between the AV (the KJV of 1611) and the New Testament of the RV (1881), the much earlier Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in 1844 by Tischendorf in the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. Scholars had also gained access to the Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican library. The Bibles produced since these discoveries are based on texts that were written much closer to the time of the events that they portray, the Bibles that are based on the Textus Receptus are using texts that have been produced at a relatively late date and when compared to the earlier texts it can be easily shown that the texts used by the Receptus include material that is not in the earlier texts, because of these embellishments in the later texts, the earlier texts should be given priority. Hence, the AV and the other Bibles that are based on the Textus Receptus are not as accurate as the modern day Bibles. Another example of the inferior quality of the KJV can be found in the heading to the ‘Letter to the Hebrews’. The KJV records The epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, there isn’t a scholar on the planet who now believes Paul wrote this letter, in fact Pauline authorship was disputed by a few giants of the early Church (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian). As well as these textual differences there are also problems of a linguistic nature. Because of the high regard in which the AV was held, some revisions have sought to remain within the literary tradition of the AV. Among the directives given to the translators of the NRSV by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA in 1980 was that they should ‘continue in the tradition of the King James Bible’, ‘but to introduce such changes as are warranted on the basis of accuracy, clarity, euphony, and current English usage’. The NRSV is thus a self-confessedly literal translation in the tradition of the AV.


A totally different approach has been adopted in the Good News Bible. Based upon Noam Chomsky's theory of transformational grammar as worked out by Eugene Nida, the GNB aims to be a ‘dynamic equivalence’ translation whose aim is to make upon modern readers the impact made upon the original readers. (Whatever that may mean) These questions aside, the translation theory underlying the GNB gives priority to the culture of the target language (the language into which the Bible is being translated) over the source language, and to direct speech over reported speech. It is also based upon research into the target language, and into the particular level to be used.


One linguistic factor that has affected all recent translations is the matter of gender-free language. Versions such as GNB, REB and NRSV have tried to avoid the third person masculine ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘him’ wherever possible, as well as ‘man’ and ‘men’, with the NRSV doing this most consistently.

Psalm 1 in the RSV is a fairly literal rendering of the Hebrew:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners?.”

The GNB treats the passage differently:

“Happy are those who reject the advice of evil men, who do not follow the example of sinners.”

The GNB simply introduces changes ‘man’ to ‘those’ in an attempt to avoid offending women.

The REB takes the ‘politically correct’ route as well when it states:

“Happy is the one who does not take the counsel of the wicked for a guide.”

The use of gender-free language is an attempt to be sensitive to the culture of the target language; however, this sometimes obscures the true meaning since the original Hebrew is certainly not gender free.


There are also doctrinal issues to be considered between the different versions. The NIV quite openly states that it represents the churches that are committed `to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God's Word in written form'. One problem with the NIV is that it blatantly changes the text in order to create a better degree of harmony between verses. A good example is Genesis 1-2:4a and 2:4a-25, that these are two different accounts of creation has been accepted by critical biblical scholars for well over a hundred years. The differences are down to the fact that they originate from two different literary sources, but the NIV refuses to accept this and shamelessly changed the text that links the two Genesis myths.

The AV reproduction of Genesis 2:19 is, “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field.”, this translation is followed by all major English versions, but giving rise to the problem that, according to chapter 1, God has already created the various types of animal. The NIV harmonizes chapters 1 and 2 with its rendering, `Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field.' A pretty silly way of trying to avoid an obvious contradiction, as this editing actually draws attention to it. If there isn’t a problem with the earlier texts why did the NIV bother to change it?

Another controversy caused by the rise of biblical criticism in the 19th century was how to translate and interpret texts in the Old Testament that were understood in the New Testament as prophecies relating to Jesus. There are dozens of examples of desperate attempts by the evangelists to try and make as much as possible in the Old testament relate to Jesus in some way and perhaps the most famous one is in Matthew 1:22:23 Isaiah 7:14 is cited as follows:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: `Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel'.

This was largely how the older English versions (AV and RV) translated Isaiah 7:14, in spite of the fact that the Hebrew word rendered as `virgin' at Isaiah 7:14 meant `young woman'. Critical commentators on Isaiah 7:14 argued that what mattered in translating the passage was not how it was understood in the New Testament but what it must have meant in the time of Isaiah, i.e. `young woman'; and this is what is found today in the RSV, NRSV, NJB, REB and GNB.


In the 19th century, commentators who said that the reference in Isaiah was to a young woman who was alive at the time when the prophet was speaking were accused of denying the virgin birth of Jesus and of undermining the inspiration and unity of Scripture. The same charges can still be heard today. The NIV, while not necessarily endorsing these charges, none the less renders Isaiah 7:14 in accordance with its usage in the New Testament: `The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.'

Another passage, which while not directly quoted in the New Testament was traditionally seen as a prophecy of Christ's crucifixion, was Psalm 22:16b, translated following the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint) as `they pierced my hands and my feet', although the Hebrew literally means `my hands and my feet were like a lion's'. Most modern versions attempt to render the Hebrew rather than the Greek. The NRSV has `my hands and my feet have shriveled', which is probably the exact opposite of what the Hebrew is trying to convey which is that, in the Psalmist's emaciated state, his hands and feet look grotesquely large and claw-like. The REB has `they have bound me hand and foot'. Even GNB's `they tear at my hands and feet' removes the allusion to the Passion narrative. The NIV retains the connection with the Passion in its rendering, `they have pierced my hands and my feet'. The NIV is a travesty, its sole intent is to harmonize the biblical texts and to over exaggerate the so-called references to Jesus in the Old Testament. I personally wouldn’t touch the NIV or the KJV with a barge pole.


So I would like to propose that we stop using the term ‘The’ Bible and start using the term ‘A’ Bible. The bottom line really is that we do not know for certain what exactly the ‘Word of God’ is, any bible that we have today is the end product of a long and varied evolution, there are too many manipulations of the text by interested parties for it to be a reliable document.


Kummel W G The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of its Problems SCM Press, London 1972.

Morgan R Biblical Interpretation Oxford University Press, 1988

Rogerson, J W An Introduction to the Bible, Penguin Books London 1999.

Rogerson J W & Davies P The Old Testament World Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Wilson G H The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985



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