By Steve Nelson
Editor’s note: In this article, the author has compiled information he culled from a number of sources over many years of studying the Word of God. The sources represent Bible scholars and historians, as well as others.
PERFECT ORIGINAL WRITINGS: About 40 different inspired writers over the centuries, each using their own vocabularies, recorded specific things down, verbatim, as directed by God Almighty. The full collection of these words have been wonderfully preserved, so that people across any time since then can access them. Although the numerous writers did the physical recording of these messages at different times and places, God is the one Author of all these words that were originally recorded perfectly, thus they are collectively called the “Word of God.” Also known as “Scripture,” these unique writings are the will of God in written form, utilizing words to convey thought concepts.
The Old Testament was recorded from the first writer Moses (around 1491-1452 BC) to the last writer Malachi (around 374 BC), thus spanning about 1,100 years. The New Testament was written in the years after Jesus was on earth (from about 28-68 AD), thus spanning about 40 years. Some suggest longer in the first century.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” – 2 Timothy 3:16
Over time, the sacred writings were meticulously copied to preserve them from one generation to the next (to miraculously 99.5% or better accuracy). Through textual analysis, of the very few errors that did creep in, most have been identified. Thus, we can have superb confidence in what words have survived to this day. Indeed, God has made it so. He protected His Word for us.
“The words of the LORD… thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” – Psalms 12:6-7
This “Word of God,” in each instance, was originally written down in a certain language, such as Aramaic, and primarily preserved over the years in this way: Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The words were recorded on various materials, including stone, parchment and papyrus, then eventually preserved as individual “scrolls” (basically a writing surface that wraps around a stick). Many writings, many scrolls! At that time, the writings did NOT include distinctions between upper and lower case letters, nor punctuation. There were no numbered chapters, no numbered verses, no marginal notes, no headings, no red words.
“Every word of God is pure.” – Proverbs 30:5
NOW IN ONE BOOK: Today we have the convenient privilege to have access to the entire Word of God, assembling all the writings into one single book and in our own English language. The defining term used of the Word of God today compiled in this format is “Bible,” from the Greek word biblos for “book.” Note: other writings may claim to be sacred and authentic, as if from God also, but they are not.
The ONLY THING recorded originally, having a divine origin, were the WORDS of the Word of God. Let that sink in a moment. EVERYTHING ELSE added, everything beyond the words, is added by humans AFTER THE FACT and is therefore fallible and subject to reasonable doubt, if it helps convey the original message from God or not. Therefore, in this article we will share some of these editorial changes that have become part of our modern Bible format.
THREE OF THE CHANGES ADDED BY MAN: (After each change are good and bad applications, plus suggested use when reading your Bible.)
- Chapters and verses:1,189 chapters, as we have them now today, were organized by Stephen Langton (1150-1228 AD). John Wycliffe produced the first English Bible (1382 AD) even before the printing press and it was the first Bible to use this chapter format. Later, 31,102 verses, as we now have them today, were organized by Robert Estienne (1503-1559 AD).William Tyndale was the biggest contributor to the first English Bible in print (1526 AD and following), but the Geneva Bible (1560 AD) was the first English Bible to have chapters and verses directly integrated in the text. Since then, nearly all Bibles, including the King James Version (1611 AD), have chapters and verses.
Good = We can reference passages quickly. Bad = At times, chapter and verse breaks may interfere with continued context at inopportune places and thus disrupt accurate interpretations.
- Capitalization:The Word of God was originally written using all capital letters, every letter in every word. In fact, there are nolower case letters in Hebrew or Aramaic alphabet. For the New Testament, the type of script using all capital letters continued especially in Greek and Latin writing since the second century AD, and in those instances is called an “uncial.” Later, a writing style introduced with lower case letters is called a “minuscule.” Eventually, perhaps as late as the ninth century AD, writing styles using both capital and lowercase letters were finally introduced.
Good = We can identify new sentence beginnings easily, plus make distinctions between common nouns and proper nouns of specific people, places and things. Bad = Bible versions vary greatly, based on the numerous opinions of translators, in deciding what words should be capitalized or not, thus at times guiding Bible readers into some misleading assumptions and interpretations.
- Punctuation:By the time of the modern printing press, invented about 1440 AD, punctuation was in most writings in some capacity. The first book printed was the Gutenberg Bible, which was in Latin. In English, punctuation eventually became a standard part of the written language.
Good = We can read within the natural syncopation of the language and recognize places to pause briefly between thoughts. Bad = Translators disagree on some passages about how to include punctuation or not, thus subtle nuances in meaning are conveyed to readers.
CONCLUSION AND PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Now, in our modern world, countless Bibles are available for purchase or free in both physical and digital formats. No person on earth today, if desiring to know God, will be unable to find the Word of God.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” – Matthew 5:6
Make a decision to put time and effort into the Word of God. If you do, you will be blessed mightily. Let’s be like the people in the city of Berea, as recorded in the Bible. Here’s what they did:
“…searched the scriptures daily…” – Acts 17:11
When reading your Bible, read what comes before and after a certain passage to understand the full context, no matter where the chapter and verse breaks are. Do not emphasize capitalization as the primary basis for your interpretation of a Scripture. Be aware that no punctuation is of divine authority and thus has no power to distort the original meaning of the words God inspired.
How remarkable a journey the Bible has had. Although the original revelation only included words, how marvelous indeed are the many additional tools we get to enjoy as we study the Scripture. With a bit of insight and a joyful anticipation to learn, we can approach our Bible reading with more maturity and clarification, utilizing any aspect of the new pieces as we see fit. In the end, we can be aware of the additions by man, and in that light have even more respect for God’s Word, giving the words the utmost respect and care as we each decide what we allow into our hearts.
Let’s enjoy our Bibles. God bless you!
Steve Nelson has been a Bible teacher for over 25 years. This article comes from “The Bible: Pure Excellence”, Segments 11-15 of “CORE”, a course for families on how to read and understand the Bible. See T4FAMILYCENTER.COM or reach Steve at [email protected].