When was the Bible as we know it first compiled and put into the context as we know it? Was it Constantine1 who originally gathered the texts together to create a manual for his new religion, or were the texts already in a particular format? Also, who was it who changed the first five books in the Bible to read God in the singular instead of Elohim, God in the plural? Was that also Constantine’s doing?
Linda, from Kelowna, BC, Canada
The Bible as we know it predated Constantine by some long period of time. None of the original texts still remain, but three Most Ancient Copies do exist. These are the Codex Siniaticus, originally a codex of the Greek Bible belonging to the fourth century. It was purchased from the Soviet Republic of Russia in 1933 by Great Britain, and is now in the British Museum. The Codex Alexandrinus was probably written in the fifth century. It contains the entire Greek Bible with the exception of 40 lost pages, and is also stored in the British Museum. The Codex Vaticanus was probably written in the fourth century, and parts of the this codex are also lost. It is in the possession of the Vatican Library at Rome.
Next comes the Ancient Versions. These are the Septuagint Version, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Peshito or Syriac Version and the Latin Vulgate.. The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew into Greek by seventy (or seventy two) scholars at the famous Alexandria Library in Alexandria, Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC) The word Septuagint comes from the Latin for Seven. It was given that name from the seventy scholars who did the translation. A large number of manuscript copies of this text exist. The Septuagint became the common Bible of the Greek-speaking Jews and later the Christians. It does not follow the same order of books as does the Hebrew Version, and also contains several books that are not contained in the Hebrew Bible. These books are known as the Apocrypha. The majority of Old Testament quotations given in the New Testament are from the Septuagint version Old Testament.
The Samaritan Pentateuch is not strictly speaking a version, but the Hebrew text perpetuated in Samaritan characters.
The Peshito or Syriac Version contains the entire Bible. It was probably written in the first or second century and is apparently a translation into the common language of certain portions of Syria.
The Latin Vulgate contains the entire Bible translated from the Hebrew into Latin by Jerome at Bethlehem. It was completed about 400 AD. For a thousand years it was the standard Bible of the Catholic Church.
The English versions of the Bible were started with John Wycliffe (1320-1384). He translated the New Testament about 1380. It is not known how much of the Old Testament he translated before he died, but his friends completed the work after his death. Wycliffe’s work was taken from the Latin Vulgate
William Tyndale was next in order of the great English translators. His translation was issued in 1525, and the Pentateuch in 1530. Tyndale used not only the Vulgate, but had access to the Greek text of Erasmus and other helps that Wycliffe did not possess.
Miles Coverdale, a friend of Tyndale, prepared a Bible dedicated to King Henry the VIII in 1535. His New Testament is largely based on the Tyndale version.
The Matthews Bible appeared in 1537. The authorship of this version is somewhat uncertain, but it appears to be based on Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s work.
The Great Bible, published in 1539, was based on the Coverdale and Tyndale Bibles. This was a large-sized volume that was chained to the reading desks in many churches, where people came to hear the reading of the word of God.
The Geneva Bible was a translation made in Geneva, Switzerland in 1560 by English scholars who fled the persecution of Queen Mary. This was a revision of the Great Bible collated with other English versions. A scholarly version, handy in size, it became a popular bible in England for many years.
The Bishop’s Bible was translated in1568, under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was mainly a revision of the Great Bible, but was also somewhat dependent on the Geneve version.
The Douay Rheims Bible was an English version Roman Catholic Vulgate. The New Testament was published at Rheims in 1582, and the Old Testament at Douay in in 1609-10.
The King James version was published in 1611. It was made by 47 scholars under the direction of King James I of England. This version was based on the Bishop’s Bible, but both the Hebrew and Greek texts were studied and other English translations were consulted with a view of obtaining the best results. This Bible has held first place in the English speaking world now for almost four centuries.
Several more modern versions also exist, including the Revised Version, 1881-84, and the American Standard Version, 1900-01. These versions attempted to replace the Elizabethan English with the contemporary English of the time.