Home> Recent Studies> How we got the Bible> Section 3

How we got the Bible

by Alan Jones







God did not "inspire" those who copied His word. They were subject to human error. In this lesson we will examine the kind of errors that the most careful and conscientious of scribes might make. In the next lesson, we will discuss the number of variant readings that have come down to us because of human error and how they affect our understanding of the revelation of God.

I. Unintentional Copying Errors

  1. Errors of the eye

1. Wrong division of words. In the Greek uncials, the letters all ran together. To see what problem this could cause, read the following: HEISNOWHERE. What did you read, "He is now here" or "He is nowhere"? Try again: DIDYOUEVERSEEABUNDANCEONTHETABLE. Did you read, "Did you ever see abundance on the table?" or "Did you ever see a bun dance on the table?" Depends on how you divide the words!!

2. Omission of letters or words (note the missing numbers supplied in italics in 1 Sam 13:1)

3. Omission of whole lines. A common error is called "homoeoteleuton", where two lines end exactly the same way and so one is skipped. Look at Mt 1:1:-17 a likely place this could happen. So many lines could end with "begat" or "was the father of.

4.  Repetition of words. In Mt 27:17 some manuscripts read, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus?"

5.  Transposition. Sometimes the order of letters or words is reversed. In 2 Chron 3:4, the transposing of two Hebrew letters makes the width of the porch 120 cubits instead of 20 cubits (as in the LXX) and would make the porch not correspond to the width of the house (vs. 3). In the N.T., "Jesus Christ" and "Christ Jesus" are many times found as alternate readings.

6.  Confusions of spelling and abbreviation. This was especially a problem with Hebrew letters which were used for numbers and could be easily confused. These errors account for many numerical discrepancies in the O.T. Compare 1 Kgs 4:26 (Solomon had 40,000 stalls for horses and 12,000 horsemen) and 2 Chron 9:25 (Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and 12,000 horsemen). A variant reading in 1 Kgs 4:26 says 4,000 stalls in agreement with 2 Chron 9:25 where there is no variant, so 4,000 would be the more accurate figure for his horses. Besides, if he had 40,000 horses, he was really short on riders!

   B.  Errors of the ear. Sometimes manuscripts were copied by several scribes while one read. If words sounded similar, then the wrong one could be written down. An example: The Greek words "hamon" (our) and "humon" (your) sound similar. Manuscripts differ making it hard to determine if John wrote that "our" joy or "your" joy may be made complete (1 Jn 1:4).

   C.  Errors of memory. Of course, scribes were not to write from memory, but it would be hard not to. All good manuscripts of Eph 5:9 have "fruit of light", but a few, otherwise good manuscripts have "fruit of the Spirit". Perhaps some scribes had Gal 5:22 in mind instead of the text in front of them.

   D.  Errors of judgment. This could result from dim lighting or poor eyesight. Also, sometimes, a scribe who was not careful, may have copied someone’s notes into the text. One miniscule copy of 2 Cor 8:4-5 incorporates "it is found thus in many of the copies" into the text, obviously adding a scribe’s notes.

II. Intentional Changes to the Text (deliberate, but with good intentions)

   A. Changes to make the text more readable. Some of the scribes smoothed out language and grammar to correspond to the usage of their day. (Compare in English the old usage, "I shall" with today’s usage, "I will".) Also the scribes updated the spelling of words.

     B. Changes were made to "harmonize" passages.

    1. To make similar passages read exactly the same (e.g. Lk 11:2-4 was changed to read like the more popular version, Mt 6:9-13). Some changed Acts 9:5-6 to make it agree more literally with Acts 26:14-15.

    2. To round out the portion of the ten commandments relating to loving one’s neighbor, some scribes added "You shall not bear false witness" to Rom 13:9.

     C. Changes were made to "correct" the text. Sometimes scribes corrected what they thought were


    1. In Rev 1:5, a scribe changed "lusanti" (loosed us from our sins) to "lousanti" (washed us from our sins) Was he trying to make more sense of the passage or, perhaps, did he make an error of the ear since the words sound the same and "washed" makes sense??

    2. A scribe changed the "sixth hour" to the "third" hour to correct what he thought was an inaccuracy in Jn 19:14. The scribe was trying to correct a "discrepancy" between John and the other accounts of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, failing to realize that John uses Roman time, while the other accounts use Jewish time and there is no contradiction.

    3. A scribe changed Mk 8:31 from "after three days" to "on the third day", in his mind to be more accurate as to when Jesus rose from the dead. He failed to realize that to the Jews the expression "after three days" did not mean "on the fourth day", but "on the third day". His change was actually meaningless and unnecessary.

III. Conclusion

The unintentional human errors we find in the manuscripts of the Bible are those that we would expect to be find. If we did not find them, we would have to conclude that God guided their pens! The intentional changes made to the Scriptures were done to "help" the text in some way and can easily be spotted. The conscientious efforts of these men and the quality of the end product that they produced is our solid basis for confidence in the text of the Bible, even though they were less than perfect.



God did not guide the pen of each scribe as he copied His word. Despite conscientious effort on the part of the scribes, errors occurred. Therefore there are variations in the extant (surviving) copies of the Old and New Testaments. Just how many variants do the copies contain? How significant are the variants? Should an examination of these variants give us doubt or confidence that God’s message has been preserved until our time? In this lesson we will find the answers to these important questions.

I. Variants in the Old Testament Copies

  1. There are not very many variant readings of the Old Testament.


    1. There are not very many extant (surviving) copies.

    2. The copies we have were made by an official class of scribes who followed strict rules.

    3. It is believed that the Massoretes destroyed all copies with variant readings.


  2. The Samaritan Pentateuch contains about 6,000 variants from the Massoretic text, but most of these are spelling differences. About 1,900 of the variants agree with the Septuagint (LXX).

The significant variants were caused by the Samaritans inserting into the text support for their position that God chose Mt. Gerizim and Shechem as His place for worship rather than Mt. Zion and Jerusalem.

II. Variants in the New Testament Copies

  1. There are many variant readings of the New Testament (at last estimate, over 200,000 from 10,000 places in the text) Why so many?

1. There are over 5,000 extant (surviving) copies. The more copies one has to compare, the more differences there will be.

2. The copying of the N.T. was not restricted to professionals following strict rules. Many private and "unofficial" copies were made.

3. In counting variants, if a word is misspelled and then copied 3,000 times then this is counted as 3,000 variants.

4. It must be noted that spelling variants account for the vast majority of the variants.

  1. How significant are the variants that occur in 10,000 places in the New Testament text?

1. Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort, in their standardized text of the New Testament, The New Testament in the Original Greek, estimated that only about 12.5% of the variants have any weight (involve more than spelling or style). They said only about 1.7% of the variants are more than trivialities. Therefore, we have a text that is 98.3% pure.

2. Phillip Schaff wrote in his Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version that of the 150,000 variations known in his day, only 400 affected the sense and of these only 50 were of real significance, and of this total not one affected "an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching."

3. The number of variants is actually a positive. The large number of variants gives us a large body of evidence by which we may review the variants. As strange as it sounds, a study of the many variants actually helps to make the text more sure. Errors in copying can be seen as errors and we can be assured of the correct reading.


An examination of the textual variations of the Old and New Testament texts does not cause us to have doubt, but rather to have faith that the original language text from which our English Bible is translated is trustworthy. The message of God has not been lost in the copying process, but still rings as loud and clear as it did when God inspired men to write it.



What do we do about all of the variant readings of the Scripture? How do we decide how the text should read? The process of comparing the variants and deciding how the original text read is called textual criticism or lower criticism. The result of this process is a standardized text, or a text which includes what scholars determine to be the best readings. This lesson will explain how scholars review the variants of the Old and New Testaments and arrive at a standardized text.

I. What evidence is used to reconstruct the text of Scripture?

  1. O.T. (see lesson 11, Evidence for the Old Testament Text)

    Additionally, many quotations have been preserved in the Talmud (A.D. 200). The Talmud is the Jewish book of tradition containing the Mishnah, a digest of the oral laws, and the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishnah. Also, quotations of the O.T. are found in the Midrash, a commentary on the O.T. a body of material collected together between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300.


  2. N.T. (see lesson 15, Evidence for the New Testament Text)

II. How is a standardized text created from the manuscript evidence? Scholars consider many factors.

The following are listed in order of importance:

  1. The reading is found in an older and/or more dependable source? With the O.T., many extant translations are much older than the extant Hebrew manuscripts, but the later original language manuscripts are more important. With the N.T., it is not necessarily the manuscript that is older that has the preferred reading, but the reading that comes from the oldest and best text "type". A "type" is a family of manuscripts that originated in a certain time and place. There are four major textual families, Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, and Byzantine, in order of importance. The more families that support a reading the more weight in its favor.


  2. More difficult reading? The scribe may have tried to smooth out differences with parallel

    accounts or differences he thought existed with other Scriptures (cp. Lesson 16, II, B., C.)


  3. Shorter reading? Unless there is evidence of accidental or intentional omission, the shorter reading is preferred. The tendency of scribes was to add rather than subtract from the text.

  1. Reading that best explains the variants? Scholars can see what the original reading must have been before the scribe made an obvious mistake.

  1. Reading with the widest geographical support? The wider the reading is supported, the better.

  1. Reading that conforms to the author’s way of writing, his use of grammar and choice of words, his "style"? In looking at style, scholars look for the less refined grammar and expression because scribes tended to try to "improve" the communication of the message.

  1. Reading that reflects no doctrinal bias? The readings where it is obvious that a scribe was trying to enhance or prove a theological point should be rejected.



Scholars’ tedious study of the manuscripts and rules for determining the best reading among the variants give us every confidence that we have the best possible text of Scripture to use for translation into English, a text that has been faithfully preserved so as to reflect the mind of God, not man.




None of the variants in the O.T. or N.T. text are "significant" in that they affect our understanding of God or His will for our lives. However, some variants are "significant" in the fact that they consist of more than a difference in spelling or one omitted word. In this lesson, we will examine the five most "significant" variants in the N.T. These affect a verse or a group of verses.

John 5:3b-4

"waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he as afflicted." (KJV)

The earliest and best manuscripts do not contain this ending to vs. 3 or vs. 4.

It is not found in the Bodmer Papyri A.D. 200 or the oldest complete N.T. manuscripts, Sinaiaticus and Vaticanus (4th century);

Alexandrian (5th century) contains this text.

1 John 5:7

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." (KJV).

The ASV and RSV omit without explanation due to the lack of any credible textual evidence.

This sentence had support from Vulgate, but not from any Greek manuscript. Erasmus was challenged as to why he did not include it in his Greek text of 1516 and 1519, he replied that if anyone would produce evidence for it one Greek manuscript, he would include it in his next edition. One 16th century miniscule from 1520 was found and in 1522, Erasmus kept his promise and put the verse in his the third edition of his Greek text. William Tyndale was the first to translate the N.T. into English from Greek and he used Erasmus’ third edition. All English translations down to and including the KJV followed Erasmus’ third and included the verse. So on the basis of one insignificant, late manuscript all the weight of some 5,000 Greek manuscripts was disregarded in favor of this text. What an injustice to the rules of textual criticism!! Later, one other late Greek manuscript was found containing 1 Jn 5:7. Both manuscripts containing the verse were translated from Latin.

Acts 8:37

"And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God."

Not found in the ASV or RSV.

Supported by a seventh century uncial, some good miniscules, and the Old Latin version, but all other manuscripts and versions stand against it.

John 7:53-8:11

This section is put in brackets by the ASV with a note that most ancient authorities omit it. It is in a footnote of RSV with a note that other ancient authorities place it there, at the end of John’s gospel, or after Lk 21:38.

It is not in the oldest and best Gr. manuscripts.

Not in any Gr. manuscripts until Bezae (A.D. 550) (known for peculiar readings). It is not found in any other manuscripts again until the 8th century.

Not in Tatian (parallel gospel from A.D. 170) or early translations such as Old Syriac, Syriac Peshitta, Coptic, Gothic, and Old Latin.

No Greek writer refers to it until the 12th century.

Scribes placed it in several other locations: some after Jn 7:36, after Jn 21:24; after Jn 7:44; or after Lk 21:38. Many of the manuscripts of these indicate that this text is doubtful.

Mark 16:9-20

Verses are lacking in many of the oldest and best Greek manuscripts, including Vatican and Sinaiaticus (4th century).

They are also missing from the earliest known manuscript of the Old Syriac translation.

Many of the ancient Fathers show no knowledge of it. Jerome (A.D. 340-420) said "almost all Greek copies do not have this concluding portion." Some who did include it had an asterisk or other symbol to indicate that it is a spurious addition.

In support of this ending of Mark, there is a plain statement from Irenaeus in the second century that shows the existence of Mark 16:9-20 and the belief that Mark was its author. Also this ending of Mark is found in a vast number of uncial manuscripts, most miniscules, most old Latin manuscripts, the Vulgate, and in some Syriac and Coptic manuscripts.

There is an insertion into Mk 16:9-20 found only in Codex W (fourth or fifth century). After Mk 16:14, the manuscript reads:

"And they excused themselves, saying, "This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now"- thus they spoke of Christ. And Christ replied to them, "The term of years for Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven."

There is another ending which occurs in several uncials, a few minuscules and several copies of ancient versions- "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."


The evidence is against the above passages being included in the New Testament text. But not even these "major" variants call in to question anything about our knowledge of God and His Son or affect the teaching and practice of Christianity in any way.




We have studied how the inspired writings were collected, received as inspired, and copied, as well as how reliable standardized texts have been made from the copies. In all of this we have found abundant evidence to trust that the Bible is the Word of God. All that remains to be studied is the translation of the reconstructed texts of the original languages into English. A reliable translation into our language is the last link in the chain to complete our confidence that what God breathed out long ago is what we are able to read, study, obey, and be saved by today. Let’s begin to look at this last link.


I. The earliest translations of the Bible into Old English (prior to A.D. 1100)

  1. First translation of any part of the Bible was by Aldhelm (640-709)- Psalms.

  2. Egbert, in 705, translated Matthew, Mark, and Luke

  3. Bede (famous for his "ecclesiastical history") finished his translation of John just prior to his death. He suffered much the last days of his life, but compelled his scribe to take dictation until the last verse was written. He then sang a chant, "Gloria" and died.

  4. King Alfred (849-901)- translated Psalms and some other sections of Scripture. He also made a Latin-English interlinear out of a Latin copy of the Gospels

II. Middle English: Partial Versions & the First Complete Translation (A.D. 1100-1400)

  1. Orm (Ormin) (1200) This monk wrote a poetical paraphrase of the Gospels and Acts. He wrote this explanation of his work, "If anyone wants to know why I have done this deed, I have done it so that all young Christian folk may depend upon the gospel only and may follow with all their might its holy teaching in thought, in word and deed."

  2. English translation of the Psalms around 1320-40 by William of Shoreham and Richard Rolle is said to have planted the seed of a struggle to put the Bible in the hands of the common people.

  3. John Wycliffe (A.D. 1330-1384), the "Morning Star of the Reformation". He was an Oxford

    Scholar and the people’s champion over Papal oppression. He said, "No man was so rude a

    scholar but that he might learn the words of the Gospel according to his simplicity." Therefore,

    he made it his life’s ambition that the simplest of English men might understand the Word of

    God. He translated the Bible into English from Latin manuscripts. He completed the N.T.

    around 1382, while the O.T. was completed by Nicholas of Herford in 1388, a few years after

    Wycliffe’s death. The Wycliffe translation was the first complete translation of the Bible into

    English. John Purvey thoroughly corrected and revised the Wycliffe Bible and his 1395

    edition served as the Bible of the Englishman until the 16th century. Traveling priests called the

    "Lollards" read and preached Wycliffe’s Bible throughout the counrtryside. Wycliffe’s work

    was later tied in with that of the Reformer, John Hus, who was put to death for his "heresy".

    Consequently, the persecutors of the Reformers, dug up Wycliffe’s body in 1428 and burned it.

    His ashes were scattered over the River Swift.

III. The Tyndale Bible, the first English Bible translated from the Original Languages

  1. William Tyndale ( 1492-1536) True "father" of the English Bible. In 1509, Erasmus came to Cambridge as professor of Greek. In 1510, Tyndale came as a student, after studying at Oxford. While in college, he made it his ambition to give the English people a translation based on the original languages. In those days, a man told Tyndale, "better without God’s law than without the Pope’s". Tyndale replied, "I defy the Pope and all His laws; if God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest." Perhaps he derived his inspiration from his teacher, Erasmus, who once said, "I would to God the plowman would sing a text of the scripture at his plow, and the weaver at his loom with this would drive away the tediousness of time. I would that the wayfaring man with this pastime would expel the weariness of his journey."

  2. In 1524, Tyndale began his work of translation. Because of opposition in England, he had to go to Hamburg, Germany to do it. But even living abroad, at times he had to flee. His work identified him with Luther who had just finished his German translation and, of course, was leading Reformation efforts. The first printing of Tyndale’s N.T. was made in 1526. Copies were smuggled into England. Officials of the Church condemned the translation. They paid for incoming copies. They burned them in public ceremonies.

  3. By 1530, Tyndale had translated the Pentateuch and by 1531 he had done Jonah. He published a revision of Genesis in 1534 and two additional editions of his N.T. in 1534-35. He was imprisoned in 1534. He continued to work on the rest of the O.T. However, he never completed it. In 1536. He was strangled and burned at the stake. His final words were, "Lord open the king of England’s eyes."

  4. Truly, as one writer said of Tyndale, "he was a man of sufficient scholarship to work from Hebrew and Greek, with genius to fashion a fitting English idiom, and faith and courage to persist whatever it cost him."

IV. Other Early English Bibles

  1. Coverdale Bible (1535)- Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) was the first to translate the complete Bible from the original languages. He was a friend and associate of Tyndale. He used Latin, German, and Tyndale’s translation to come up what has been described as a translation that is Tyndale’s revised by the German. He was the first to separate the Apocrypha from the rest of the O.T. His translation became the first to circulate in England without official hindrance.

  2. Matthews Bible (1537)- This was the work of another one of Tyndale’s friends, John Rogers (1500-1555). His pen name was Thomas Matthew. He used a pen name so that the translation would not bear his name. He did not think that his name should be attached to the translation since it was essentially the work of others. His translation combined the work of Tyndale and Coverdale. It was the first English Bible to be circulated with the King of England’s consent.

  3. Taverner’s Bible (1539)- This was an independent revision of Matthew’s Bible. The translation

    of the N.T. was improved.

  4. Great Bible (1539)- another revision of Matthew’s Bible. It was edited by Coverdale. Henry

    VIII authorized it to be used in the churches saying, "In God’s name, let it go abroad among our

    people." The preface read, "This Bible is appointed to the use of the churches." A copy was

    placed in every church in the land. Preachers complained because the people chose to read the

    Bible rather than to listen to their sermons.


  5. Geneva Bible (1560)- This translation was different in that it was a careful collaboration of many scholars rather than only one or a few. It was also called the "Breeches Bible" because of its translation of Gen 3:7 where it reads that Adam and Eve "sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches." The basic text of the translation was Tyndale, but it used the latest textual evidence available. It was the family Bible, the home Bible, while the Great Bible was the Bible of the church. It was the first Bible to print each verse as a paragraph and to put words in italics that were not represented in the original texts. It went through 140 editions prior to 1644. It retained its popularity through the first generation of the KJV. It was the Bible of Shakespeare and the Pilgrims. The commentary it contained reflected the views of John Calvin and the Reformation.

  6. Bishop’s Bible (1568)- As the name suggests, most of the translators were bishops in the Anglican Church. This was a revision of the Great Bible used in the churches. Church leaders did not like the Geneva Bible because of its commentary. Yet, because of the popularity of the Geneva Bible, the people did not like the Great Bible. So, the Church leaders put out a new translation, what they called "a compromise- a dignified and ‘safe’ version for public reading." This was the Bible used by the churches from 1568-1611. A second edition was published in 1572 and its last printing was in 1602.

  7. Rheims-Douai Bible (1582; 1609-10)- Though the Catholic Church opposed the Bible being put into the hands of the common man in his own language and did everything they could to stop it, it happened anyway. So, eventually they were forced to "join the parade" and make their own English translation, one in which they could put their own commentary, answering the Protestants, and one in which they could place the Apocrypha in the "canonical" position that was decreed in the Council of Trent in 1546. In the preface, the translators said that they guarded themselves "against the idea that the Scriptures should always be in our mother tongue, or that they ought, or were ordained by God, to be read indifferently by all." Their translation was from the Latin Vulgate. Still trying to keep the understanding of the Bible from the common man, they introduced excessive "Latinisms", that is they were overly literal in their translation, making it harder to be understood in English.


History can only help us to imagine what kind of struggle that it took to get the Bible into the hands of the common man in his own language, so that he did not have to be well versed in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin to understand it. Those who translated the Bible into English surely were in the forefront of this battle. Some men paid with their lives. We are indebted. Let us show our appreciation by reading and by studying, and especially by living the Scriptures. Putting the Scriptures into our life is the best translation of all.



From William Tyndale to the Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible great strides had been made in providing the English-speaking world with an accurate understanding of the Word of God. The process of making new translations to increase accuracy and to keep up with current English usage continued with the King James Version. We must understand that it will ever be ongoing due to the discovery of new manuscript evidence and changes in the English language. In this lesson, we will track many of the English translations from the King James Version until our day.


I. The King James Version

  1. The need for a new translation was proposed to King James in 1604. He agreed that one should be made that was satisfactory to all for both public and private use. Remember that at this time, the Geneva Bible was being used at home, while the Bishop’s Bible was being used in the churches. The most important decision that King James made about this translation was that there were to be no notes or comments except those that had to do with the translation of the text. In this way, doctrinal bias was kept out and the Bible was made satisfactory to all.

  2. The KJV was a revision of the 1602 edition of the Bishop’s Bible. It was the work of 48 choice Hebrew and Greek scholars. They were divided into 6 companies. Each was assigned a portion of Scripture to translated according to detailed instructions. They reviewed each other’s work. Delegates of each company met to smooth out the difficult spots. The work began in 1607. After 2 years and 9 months, the translation went to the printer and it was published in 1611.

  3. The title page read, "Appointed to be Read in the Churches". In a section called, "The Translators to the Reader", the translators sought to justify their work in view of the attitude of "our old Bibles are good enough". The KJV was immediately used in the churches, but took a few decades to replace the Geneva Bible for private use.

  4. The KJV has undergone numerous revisions to harmonize spelling and to get rid of antique words. The last revision was made by Dr. Blayney of Oxford in 1769. This revision differs from the original 1611 King James in over 75,000 detials. Dr. Blayney’s revision made over 200 years ago is what we know as the KJV today.

  5. Why did the KJV win the hearts of its first readers and retain such popularity even until today?

    1. It was timely. A new translation was needed.

    2. It was a national effort, headed by the King.

    3. The revision was not the work of one man or party.

    4. Great scholars, men of skill and piety, were chosen to do the work.

    5. Great progress had been made in the understanding of Hebrew and Greek.

    6. The translators could "stand on the shoulder’s" of the English translators before them.

    7. The translators had an effective system of cooperative work.

    8. The literary atmosphere of the day, the style and artistic touch, went into the translation.

II. The English Revised Version; The American Standard Version

  1. It was decided at the Convocation of the Prince of Canterbury in 1870 that a full revision of the KJV was necessary. The work of translation began in 1871, with 65 British scholars from various denominations involved. American scholars were asked to join the work in 1872.

  2. British scholars spent six years making the first revision and then two and a half years considering the suggestions of American scholars before sending the Bible to print. On May 17, 1881 the N.T. was published. On May 22, 1881 the entire N.T. was published in the Chicago Times and the Chicago Tribune. In 1885, the O.T. was issued. The entire Bible (ERV) was published in 1898. The biggest format change from the KJV was the printing of the text in true paragraph form.

  3. The American revision committee had agreed to wait at least 14 years before issuing an American English Version. In 1901, the published the American Standard Version. The Americans revised and shortened the paragraph structure and added short page heading, in addition to changing some of the words to reflect American rather than British usage.

III. The Revised Standard Version

  1. In 1937 the International Council of Religious Education authorized the revision of the American Standard Version. Many new manuscripts, both Biblical and secular, had been found. Great advances continued to be made in Biblical scholarship. And, of course, the style of English had continued to change. The aim of the translators was to combine the accuracy of the ASV with the eloquence of the KJV. The work was done by 22 outstanding scholars, 9 working on the N.T. and 13 on the O.T. The N.T. group included well known scholars, Edgar Goodspeed and James Moffatt. Revisions to the ASV could only be made if 2/3 of them agreed.

  2. "You" and "Yours" replaced "Thou" and "Thine", except when referring to God. The translation was made clearer by a more direct word order.

  3. The N.T. was published in 1946 and the O.T. in 1952. The O.T. was the first to make use of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

IV. The New American Standard Version

  1. In 1959, another revision of the ASV was launched. The goal was to translate the Bible in more current English, while preserving the accuracy of the ASV. Of course, the most recent manuscript discoveries would be taken into account.

  2. Important changes include the removal of all old English pronouns, even in respect to God; the translation of Greek verbs according to modern English usage, and the use of English idiom instead of a word for word translation whenever necessary to make the meaning clearer (the literal translation is put in the footnotes).

  3. The N.T. was completed in 1963, while the O.T. was finished in 1971.

V. The New King James Version

  1. The translators of the NKJV made their goal the same as the 1611 KJV translators, not "to make a new translation, but to make a good one better." They Wanted to modernize the English, while keeping the same thought flow of the 1611 Bible. Their aim was that a reader could listen to the reading of either edition while following along with the other.

  2. The preface comments, "The real character of the Authorized version does not reside in its archaic pronouns or verbs, or other grammatical forms of the seventeenth century, but rather in the care taken by its scholars to impart the letter and spirit of the original text in a majestic and reverent style."

  3. They kept the Textus Receptus that was used for the KJV for their Greek text (even though the best manuscripts have been discovered since the Textus Receptus), noting major critical variants from other Texts in the margin. They point out that 85% of the N.T. text is the same in the Textus Receptus, Alexandrian Text, and Majority Text.

  4. The N.T. was printed in 1979 and the O.T. in 1982.

VI. Independent Versions

  1. The versions discussed so far in this history version are all related to each other. They all are revisions that come from Tyndale and Coverdale (except for the Geneva Bible). See the chart on page 51. It is remarkable that 90% of our N.T. text today is still a product of the work of Tyndale, who was much more limited in his understanding of Biblical languages and in the availability of Biblical manuscripts than later scholars!) Let’s briefly note two completely independent group translations. (Countless independent translations have been made by individuals, but it is beyond the scope of this course to tell their history and to evaluate them)

  2. The New English Bible (1961)- This was the first modern version translated by a group of Protestants that completely departed from the respected ancestry of the Tyndale-KJV tradition. The translators also broke away from the "word for word" principle in the interest of replacing Greek constructions and idioms by those of contemporary English. They made a "sense for sense" translation rather than a "word for word".

  3. The New International Version (1973, N.T., 1978, O.T.)- This was a completely new translation made by over 100 scholars directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. It is perhaps the most systematic translations ever made. Groups of scholars translated various portions of Scripture. Then their work went through three reviews and revisions made by committees, the last one being a committee of 15 of the foremost scholars who oversaw the whole translation. As with the NEB, the concern was for the translation of the sense of the words rather than a "word for word" translation.



          Tyndale (INCOMPLETE) (1524-1536)                              Coverdale(COMPLETE) (1535)




                                                            MATTHEWS (1537)



                         TAVERNER'S (1539)                                       GREAT BIBLE (1539)



                 Geneva (independent) (1560)                                 BISHOP'S BIBLE (1568)



                                                                                      KING JAMES VERSION (1611)



                               ENGLISH REVISED (1881/1885)       AMERICAN STANDARD (1901)



                            REVISED STANDARD (1946/1952)   NEW AMERICAN STANDARD (1963/1971)



        NEW ENGLISH BIBLE (1961)                              NEW KING JAMES VERSION (1979/1982)








The history of the English Bible is the story of how English speaking men who are experts in the original languages of the Bible have spent countless hours making sure that their generation understands as accurately and as clearly as possible the Word of God in the English language. Thanks to their efforts we who are unlearned in the original languages may understand and obey our Creator and, through His Son Jesus Christ, we may enter into a relationship with Him now that lasts forever.





The author of these lessons has not made reviews of translations, nor does he possess the skills to do so. In this lesson, he will present information from reviews of some English translations that those with the expertise to do so have taken the time to make a careful review.


I. The King James Version

  1. The King James Version, though it has not been updated in its language since 1769, remains popular in the English-speaking world today. See lesson 20 for the reasons that it was so well received and has continued in popularity. But, the version does have some weaknesses we should note:

    1. The textual base of the translation is not as good as the textual base available today, especially when we speak of the Greek text of the New Testament. The four most valuable witnesses to the N.T. text, the Vatican, Sinaiatic, Alexandrian, and Ephraem manuscripts had not yet been found when the KJV was translated or even when it was last revised.

    2. Since the KJV has not been revised since 1769, it contains many archaic words. These words are either unknown or misleading to today’s reader. Some examples of misleading words are "allege" instead of "prove" (Acts 17:3); "communicate" instead of "share" (Gal 6:6); "suffer" instead of "allow" (1 Tim 2:12); "allow" instead of "approve" (Lk 11:48); "let" instead of "hinder" (Rom 1:13); "prevent" instead of "precede" ((1 Thess 4:15); "conversation" instead of "conduct" (Phil 1:27)

    3. Translation was made according to the best knowledge of Hebrew and Greek at that time, but so much more is known of these languages now. Advancements in learning have brought translation errors of the KJV to light. Examples: "observed him" in Mk 6:20 should be "kept him safe"; "hell" in many places should be "hades" (such as in Mt 16:18)

II. The American Standard Version

  1. This revision of the KJV cleared up many archaic expressions. Some examples are "spoke first to him" replaced "prevented him" (Mt 17:25), "baggage" replaced "carriages (Acts 21:15), "made a circuit" replaced "fetched a compass" (Acts 28:13), "hinder" replaced "let" (Rom 1:13), "in nothing be anxious" replaced "be careful for nothing" (Phil 4:6); and "grandchildren" replaced "nephews" (1 Tim 5:4)

  2. However, some archaic expressions were retained, such as "glory" (Mt 6:2, better translated "praise"), "dispute" (Mk 9:34; better translated "discuss"), "doctor" (Lk 5:17; better translated "teacher"), "allege" (Acts 17:3; better translated "prove") "communicate" (Gal 6:6; better translated "share"). The verb archaic verb ending "eth" was also retained.

  3. And, unfortunately many archaisms were added by the translators to give the text a more "Biblical" flavor; words such as "aforetime" (Rom 15:4), "would fain" (Lk 15:16), "howbeit" (Gal 4:8), "lest haply" (Acts 5:39), "God-ward" (1 Thess 1:8), "us-ward" (Eph 1:19) and "you-ward" (Gal 5:10) found their way into the text.

  4. Though the ASV is considered very true to the original languages, Charles Spurgeon reflected the thought of many about it when he said that it was "strong in Greek, weak in English."

III. The Revised Standard Version

  1. Overall, this translation is said to be more clear and precise than the ASV. Some examples include "delight in riches" instead of "deceitfulness of riches" (Mt 13:22); "fraud" instead of "error" in Mt 27:64; "after the Sabbath" instead of "late on the Sabbath" (Mt 28:1); "until an opportune time" instead of "for a season" (Lk 4:13); "all of them" instead of "both of them" (Acts 19:16); "God’s field" instead of "God’s husbandry" (1 Cor 3:9); "peddlers of God’s word" instead of "corrupting the word of God" (2 Cor 2:17); "commonwealth" instead of "citizenship" (Phil 3:20); "in idleness" instead of "disorderly" (2 Thess 3:6)

  2. The most severe criticism of the RSV is its translation, "young maiden" instead of "virgin" in Isa 7:14. In defense of the translators, a "young maiden" was naturally assumed to be a "virgin". Therefore, the translation does not take away from the prediction of the miraculous birth of the Christ as fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

IV. The New English Bible

  1. This translation, like most of our modern translations is a "sense for sense" translation rather than a "word for "word" translation. In reality, all translations, from Tyndale on down, have to be somewhat this way due to the idioms of language. Some translations are just more "sense ofr sense" and less "word for word" than others. The question that must be asked about any translation is, "Does it reflect the meaning of the language it was translated from?" The NEB generally is thought to be successful in its aim to accurately translate the original languages into modern speech. However, sometimes it slips over into the role of "commentator" rather than "translator".

  2. The NEB often goes away from the textual authorities with the most weight when there are variant readings to sort out.

  3. As this translation was done by those from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, it contains many Anglican or "non-American" terms. Here are a few examples from the book of Mark:

    1. "make away with him" (3:6), cp. "destroy him" (NASV)

    2. "the young corn was scorched" (4:6), cp. "it was scorched" (NASV)

    3. "meal-tub" (4:21), cp. "basket" (NASV)

    4. "took to their heels" (5:14), cp. "ran away" (NASV)

    5. "fell foul of him" (6:4), cp. "took offense at him" (NASV)

    6. "farmsteads" (6:56), cp. "villages" (NASV)

    7. "rounded on him" (10:48), cp. "were sternly telling him" (NASV)

    8. "tethered" (11:2), cp. "tied" (NASV)

    9. "truckle to no man" (12:14), cp. "defer to no man" (NASV)

    10. "cudgels" (14:43), cp. "clubs" (NASV)

V. The New International Version

  1. There is much good to say about the preparation of this translation (see lesson 20). Its greatest strength is said to be its translation of the O.T. Perhaps it is the most readable O.T.

  2. Scholars who have reviewed this translation say that it is sometimes "too free" in its translation in its attempt to be more readable. It departs too much from the literal rendering of the words.

  3. The chief criticism of the NIV is that the Calvinistic doctrine held by many of the translators comes out in the text, especially in the translation of "flesh" as "sinful nature" in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, and 2 Peter. Also, in 1 Cor 2:14 instead of translating the
    natural man" or the "unspiritual" man, the NIV reads "the man without the Spirit", implying that man cannot understand the Bible apart from the Holy Spirit’s help. This is the Calvinistic teaching that man is by nature so wicked that he can do nothing good without God’s help. Man must get his understanding, faith, etc. from God if he is to have it at all.



No translation of the Bible is any language is perfect. To those who hold the KJV to be the version "inspired and authorized by God", what about the translation of "Easter" for Passover" in Acts 12:4 or the transliteration "baptism" instead of the translation "immersion"? On the other hand no legitimate attempt to translate the Bible from the original languages is so flawed that man cannot understand the will of God in his own language. The imperfections of the translation process point out the value of referring to several translations, especially when the understanding of a word or phrase is crucial to one’s obedience to God.





We must be careful in choosing our Bibles so that when we read we can rest assured that what we are reading are not the words of men, but the words of God, who revealed His mind to us in human language. Here are some questions that we need to ask when we are considering which translation to use for reading and study.


Questions to Ask When Choosing a Bible


1. Is this a translation or a paraphrase?

2. Was this translation made from the original languages in which God revealed His will?

3. What original language text was this translation based on?

4. Was the translation done by a committee or just one man?

5. What religious background did the translators come from? Was the translation made by men

from different denominations or were they all from the same one?

6. Is the translation "word for word" as much as is possible or is it primarily "thought for thought"?

7. When the translators had to go away from a "word for word" translation in order to express the

Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek idioms in English, did they supply the literal "word for word"

translation as a footnote? Did they put any words that they supplied in italics?

8. Is the translation easily understandable to you?




Several reliable translations are available. Have several in your home to use for reading and study. Don’t rely on only one translation. Compare several reliable ones so that you may clearly and accurately understand the Word of God.


We conclude our series of lessons with the words of Neil Lightfoot that we now understand so well, "How the Bible has come down to us is a story of adventure and devotion. It is a story of toil and faith by those who, sometimes at great cost, passed down from to generation the message of salvation. The Bible did not just happen nor has it been preserved through the years by mere chance." - How We Got the Bible, p. 11. "The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever." (1 Pet 1:24)



Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction

Geisler, Norman and Nix, William. A General Introduction to the Bible

Lightfoot, Neil. How We Got the Bible

Back to :




Copyright © *Palmer Road Church of Christ* - All Rights Reserved
Design Template by Web Design Studio


The Lower Lights

Recent Studies




     Learning to Love

     our Spouse




Bible     Interpretation


     A Taste of the


   How We Got the


       Table of Contents

         Section 1

         Section 2

         Section 3

On-line Bible Study

Study Tools / Links

Spiritual Talk

Sermon Tapes

Contact Us

Guest Book