Understanding How the Bible Came to Be
The Bible is the most studied document in human historv, and the most published book ever. Love for the inspired word of God has always led people to study not only hat the text says, but also how the text came ro be. There is a remarkable historv of the fonnation and preservation of the Word of God, one which extends down right to the bible in your hands! In the course of this history, we can learn many things of not only scholarlv interest, but also of devotional and apologetical importance.
The thrcc main topics of tonight-s talk.
l) How the various books of the bible were gathered into one collection. (The canon of Scripture)
2) How scholars have tried to obtain the best ‘ex/ possible for every book Of the bible. (Manuscript history)
3) How the Bible has been ‘ranslated into its various English editions that we use today. (Editions of the Bible)
I. The Canon Of Sacred Scripture
Thesis: The teaching authoritv of the bishops of the Church (i.e.. the episcopal magisterwm) is the sole reason why Christians today possess the books of the Bible they do. There is no divinely inspired book ofthe Bible called ‘Table of Contents.” To believe in Sacred Scripture requires belief in the teaching authority of the Church. not just at the time of the apostles. but into the fourth century A.D., a living magisterium of the successors to the apostles. Stated apologeticallv: One cannot believe in sola scriptura *Wthout a scriptura. But there would be no scriptura %ithout Sacred Tradi’ion and Magisterium. The three have alxvays gone together. That is Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium are the basis for all Catholic doctnnc. (See Vatican Il, Dei Verbum & Vatican l, Dei Films.)
The Bible has always been a collection of books, a library. Bible (English) (Latin) biblia (Greek, “the books”).
When the Catholic Church define which books comprise the inspired books of the Bible they defined that there are 73 books as the divinely inspired written Word ofGod:
46 books of the Old Testament & 27 books of the New Testament.
These books were written over the course of many centuries, many different authors, from many different places. T-hrs raises the question. How did they come to be united into one collection? You are also av. are that Catholics. Protestants and Jews disagree over the number of books in Sacred Scripture.
The proper Set of books in a collection is called a “canon,” (Kanon, from Greek, “measuring stick.”)
We must address the question of The Canon of Scripture in two parts:
(A) Formation of the Old Testament canon
(B) Formation of the New Testament canon
2. The Manuscript Authorities for our Present-Day Bible
(A) The Hebre«.’, Masoretic Text (MT)
(B) The Greek Septuagint Text (LXX)
(C) The Latin Vulgate
(D) The Dead Sea Scrolls: What are they? What do thev tell us about the text Of the Bible?
Some physical evidence: manuscripts that we possess today for each authority. going backwards chronologically:
(C) The Vulgate of St. Jerome: produced in 401A.D (early fifth century)
Codex Fuldensis: Dated to 541-546 AD, ( 150 after the original)
Contains NT only. consisting Of a harmonized Gospel (Diawsseron) instead of the Four Gospels. plus the 23 Other NT books.
Codex Claromontanus V: Dated to fifth century A.D. (within 100 years of the original)
Contains NT only. qith a pre-vulgate Latin Gospel of Matthew, the remaining 26 books according to the Vulgate.
Codex Amiarinns: Dated to earlv 8th century A.D.: 300 vears after the original.
Nearly complete OT and NT: missing only Baruch. Elaborated illustrated and in amazing condition. 19″ x 13″ thick.
7Slbs. in weight. and required a herd of 2.000 cattle to make the vellum required!
We have many other manuscripts from the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries A D. So our present-day evidence for the
Vulgate text is much closer to the original than LXX or MT. but the Vulgate is a translation. not the original
(B) The Septuagint (LXX): produced from mid-third century BC to mid-second century BC
Codex Sinairicns: Dated 325-360 AD (approx. 600 years after the original)
Available online! waw.codcxsinaiticus.org
Contains most of the OT (some portions of the manuscript have decayed) and a complete NT. have been one of the fifty
exemplar copies of Scripture commissioned by Emperor Constantine to be a “standard edition” throughout Chlistendotn
Codex Varicwnu.s: Dated fourth century A.D. (approx. 600 years after the original)
Nearly complete OT: lacks only Maccabces. NT from Matthew to Hebrev.s 9 (missing 1-2 Timothy. Titus, Philemon, & Rev.)
Codex Alexandrinus: Dated early fifth century A.D. (approx. 700 vears after the original)
Nearly complete OT and NT,
(A) The Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT): no “original production date”
Leningrad Codex: Dated 1008 A.D.: eleventh centurv!
Oldest Complete Hebrev, Bible,
Aleppo Coder: Dated mid-tenth century.
Available online! “Mw_alcppocodex.org
Previouslv the oldest complete Hebrew Bible until portions were destroyed during lhc Aleppo Pogrom of 1947.
(D) The Dead Sea Scrolls: between ISOB.C. and 68A.D.
The most significant manuscript discoverv of the past several centuries! Discovered in caves in the Judean Desert
between 1947 and 1957, in a region called Qumran. These documents turn back the clock on manuscript criticism
bv centuries! The Dead Sea Scrolls have also re-ignited the debate about whether the IA,X or MT represents the
“most original” reading of some passages.
3. Contemporary English Translations in use among Catholics:
(A) Douay-Rhcims: a direct translation from the Vulgate
(B) Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (RSV-CE): Takes into consideration LXX. MT and Vulgate
(C) New American Bible: Takes into consideration LXX and MT. favors MT more regularly
Thus some reasons why different English Bibles read differently.
– Different underlying texts (Vulgate vs. LXX / MT)
– When authorities differ (e.g., INX reads differentlv than MT), sometimes committees pick a “best reading”
– Translation isn ‘t always easy or automatic: difficult passages require making judgment calls
Important Moments in the
History of the Alexandrian Canon
Alexandria vs. Jerusalem (4th – 1st cent. BC)
Two canons emerge in Jewish usage: the Alexandrian canon ( 46 books) and the Palestinian
canon ( — 39 books).
The seven contested books are: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I & 2 Maccabees
also debated are pans of Esther and Daniel. Palestinian sensibilities disliked books that were
recenlly composed (e.g., Maccabees) or originally written in Greek rather than Hebrew (e.g.,
Formation of the Septuagint (LXX)
King Ptolemy Il Philadelphus (who reigned over Egypt 287 – 247 BC) organizes a scholarly
team of seventy bilingual Jewish translators to create a single collection of Jewish sacred
writings in Greek for the Great Library of Alexandria.
This translation becomes the Septuagint (INX), so named from the seventy (Latin, septuaginta)
translators_ Many contemporary biblical scholars believe that Ptolemy’s project only entailed a
translation of the Pentateuch, not the entire OT’, but within the next 100 years, the entirety of
Hebrew Scriptures had been rendered into Greek. Because Greek was widely spoken by Jews
who lived outside of Palestine, the Septuagint edition circulates widely.
FROM THE TIME OF CHRIST:
The Church did not simply inherit its Old Testament canon from the Jews, because the Jews
were still debating the question of the canon by the time of Christ. There is a vast amount of
literature on this subject. We will only identify key historical events.
Jewish Rabbinical Council Of Jamnia (90 AD):
Definitively rejects the Alexandrian canon and the Septuagint translation, as part Of a concerted
policy to reorganize and strengthen Judaism after several major events: the Roman occupation,
the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, and widespread Christian evangelization of many Jews.
Hereafter, the 39-book Palestinian canon becomes the definitive canon of rabbinic Judaism. The
Hebrew text of these books becomes the Masoretic text tradition (—MT), which was preserved by
scribes (Masoretes) with careful annotation systems.
Polemically-oriented new Greek translations emerge (2nd century AD):
Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion provide new Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures
for Greek-speaking Jews, in an effort to replace the widespread usage of the Septuagint, We
note Patristic complaints about the circulation of “altered” copies Of Sacred Writ.
EARLY CHURCH TEACHING ON THE OT CANON:
The following all affirm the full Alexandrian canon Of 46 books which we have today.
Synod of Rome, 382. Pope St. Damasus I, “De recipiendis et non recipiendis libris”
The Roman Synod considered the issue of the canon together with several Other matters. Pope
Damasus published his letter recapitulating the synod’s affirmations.
The African Church:
synod ofHippo (393) & Synods of Carthage 1-111 (393, 397, 419) rule on the 0T canon. st.
Augustine was present at these synods. The African church thus achieved clarity, and uniformity
with the recent teaching of Rome. Pope St. Boniface I (418-422) ratified the decision made by
Carthage in 397 and sent the decision to the Eastern patriarchs in Alexandria, Antioch and
Jerusalem. establishing uniformity throughout the Church worldwide. In 419 the Synod of
Carthage reaffrmed what Pope St. Boniface had proclaimed.
In his own writings, St. Augustine had already affirmed the 46 books of the Alexandrian Canon
in De Doctrina Christiana, and expressed his sentiment that “as far as the Old Testament is
concerned, the authority of the Septuagint is supreme” (DDC 11.53)
Western Europe (Gaul):
St. Exuperius, Bishop of Toulouse asks Pope St. Innocent I several questions, including a
question about the canon. Innocent I responds in his epistle “Consulenti Tibi” of 20 Feb. 405,
affirming the 46 books. This letter is sometimes called “Canon of Pope Innocent I
The matter Of the OT Canon was thus resolved in the Westfor over a millennium.
MEDIEVAL ECUMENICAL COUNCA*:
Ecumenical Council of Florence (1442)
This council attempted reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. In so doing, the council had
to address the question of the OT canon because some Orthodox Churches kept a larger canon,
including the books of 3 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151 and “The Prayer of Manessah.’
The council’s “Decree for the Jacobites” affirmed the 46-book Alexandrian canon as we have it
today on 4 February 1442. It did not deem the matter worthy Of anathematization.
Ecumenical Council of Trent: Fourth Session, 8 April 1546
In addressing the heresy of Martin Luther, Trent promulgated a solemn definition of the OT
canon, anathematizing those who “knowingly and deliberately reject” the books found in the
This is the final, definitive and infallible teaching on the matter of the OT canon.
Source Texts Concerning the Formation Of the
Alexandrian Canon and Septuagint Translation
N.B… Some of the book names may be unfamiliar because the-v follow the Septuagint naming conxention (for
examples Paralipomenon — Chronicles.) Also note that Lamentations. Baruch 1-5. and Baruch 6 are sometimes
listed each separately from onc another. sometimes grouped together, or sometimes treated as part of Jeremiah.
DS — Denzinger-Schönmetzer_ Enchiridion .svmho/orum. 36th edition,
SCD Sources QfCotholic Dogma, cd R.J. DeFerrari. an English translation of the 30th edition ofDen7inger.
The numbering systems of DS and SCD are different. because the DS numbering system changed in the 32nd cd.
(DS 179, SCD 84)
pope St. Damasus I, “De recipiendis et non recipiendis libris”
IFrom the acts of the Roman Synod. 382 ADI
“Likewise it has been said: Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the
universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun.
The order of lhe O/d Testament begins here: Genesis one book, Exodus one book,
Leviticus One book, Numbers one book, Deuteronomy one book, Josue Nave one book, Judges
one book, Ruth one book, Kings four books, Paralipomenon two books, Psalms one book,
Solomon three books, Proverbs one book, Ecclesiastes one book, Canticle of Canticles one book,
likewise Wisdom one book, Ecclesiasticus one book,
Likewise ‘he order of the Prophets. Isaias one book, Jeremias one book, with Ginoth, that
is with his lamentations, Ezechiel one book, Daniel one book, Osee one book, Micheas one book,
Joel one book, Abdias one book, Jonas one book, Nahum one book, Habacuc one book,
Sophonias one book, Aggeus one book, Zacharias one book, Malachias one book
Like)t’ise the order Of the histories. Job one book, Tobias one book, Esdras two books,
Esther one book, Judith one book, Machabees two books.
Likewise ‘he order of the writings of the New and eternal les,’amen/, which the holy and
Catholic Church supports. Of the Gospels, according to Matthew one book, according to Mark
one book, according to Luke one book, according to John one book.
The epistle ofPaul (the apostle/ in number.fourteen. To the Romans One, to the Corinthians
two, to the Ephesians one, to the Thessalonians two, to the Galatians one, to the Phillippians one,
to the Colossians one, to Timothy two, to Titus one, to Philemon one, to the Hebrews one.
“kevvise the Apocalypse of John, one book. And the Acts of the Apostles one book.
Likewise ‘he canonical episdes in number seven. of Peter the Apostle two epistles, of
James the Apostle one epistle, of John the Apostle one epistle, of another John. the presbyter,
two epistles. of Jude the Zealot, the Apostle one epistle, see n. 162 ff.
Ihe canon of the New les,’amenl ends here.”
Third Synod of Carthage Ill, 397 AD:
(DS 186, SCD 92)
Canon 36 (or otherwise numbered 47). “11t has been decidedl that nothing except the Canonical
Scriptures should be read in the church under the name Of the Divine Scriptures. But the
Canonical Scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges,
Ruth, four books ofKings, Paralipomenon two books, Job, the Psalter ofDavid, five books Of
Solomon, twelve books Of the Prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Daniel, Ezechiel, Tobias, Judith,
Esther, two books ofEsdras, two books of the Machabees. Moreover, of the New Testament:
Four books of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles one book, thirteen epistles of Paul the
Apostle, one of the same to the Hebrews, two of Peter, three of John. one ofJames, one of Jude,
the Apocalypse of John. Thus lit has been decidedl that the Church beyond the sea may be
consulted regarding the confirmation of that canon; also that it be permitted to read the sufferings
of the manyrS when their anniversary days are celebrated.’
pope St. Innocent I to St. Exuperius, Bp. of Toulouse, “Consulenti tibi,” 20 Feb. 405 AD:
(DS 213, SCD 96)
(7) “A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the
desiderata of which you wish to be informed verbally: of Moses five books, that is, ofGenesis,
of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Josue, of Judges one book, of Kings
four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen books, of Solomon five books, the Psalms.
Likewise of the histories, Job one book, of Tobias one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the
Machabees two, ofEsdras two. Paralipomenon two books. Likewise of the New Testament: of
the Gospels four books, of Paul the Apostle fourteen epistles, of John three, epistles of Peter two,
an epistle of Jude, an epistle Of James, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John.
Others, however, which were written by a certain Leucius under the name of Matthias or
James the Less, Or under the name of Peter and John (or which were written by Nexocharis and
Leonidas the philosophers under the name Of Andrew), or under the name of Thomas, and if
there are any others, you know that they are not Only to be repudiated but also condemned.’
IN_B.. by the unusual phrase. “the five books of Solomon.” Pope Innocent seems to mean those three books usually
said to bc “Of Solomon..- namely Proverbs. Ecclesiastes. and Song Of Songs. together with the Other two “Wisdom.
books: Ecclesiasticus/Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon.l
St. Augustine, 427 AD: “as far as the Old Testament is concerned, the authority of the
Septuagint is supreme” (De Doctrina Christiana, 11.53)
(DS 354, SCD 162)
Pope St. Gelasius I, “De libris non recipiendis,” 495 AD:
Repeats the teaching of Pope St. Damasus I on the canon, and adds a list of apocryphal books
which are not to be received by the Church.
Council Of Trent, Fourth Session IV, 8 April 1546:
“Of the Old Testament
(DS 1502, SCD 784)
The five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Josue,
Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, two ofParalipomenon, the first and second of
Esdras (which latter is called Nehemias), Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidic Psalter
(in number one hundred and fifty Psalms), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes. the Canticle of
Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the
twelve minor Prophets (Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacue,
Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias), two books of Machabees, the first and
(The order of books copies that of the Council of Florence. held in 1442. 45 books in the preceding
list bcc-ausc Lamentations is presumed to be part of Jeremiah.’
Important Moments in the History of the
New Testament Canon
Informal episcopal cooperation: Late first, and second century
Sacred writings are scattered all throughout Europe and Asia Minor. Local churches collect
them, and read “the memoirs of the Apostles” (Justin Martyr, Firs/ Apology, 66-67) during the
The pious practice of exchanging works of apostolic writing between bishops begins. Bishops
determine what is appropriate to be read during the liturgy. Episcopal cooperation both gathers
texts and weeds 0111 inauthentic material.
“Canonical lists” develop as an early way to keep everyone on the same page. The Muratorian
fragment is an example Of a Roman canonical lisv It divided works into three categories:
(a) Divinely inspired, thus suitable for being read at Mass.
(b) Not divinely inspired, but useful for preaching and moral formation. They may be
circulated but not read at Mass.
(c) Heterodox, therefore not suitable for reading or circulation.
The explosion of Christian literature during the second and third centuries, and the rise Of major
heresies within the Church, prompts more formalized episcopal and scholarly cooperation.
Origen of Alexandria: Early third century
Priest Of the diocese Of Alexandria, and foremost Scripture scholar Ofhis day, Origen attempts to
catalogue all known writings claiming to be gospels, acts, epistles, etc. of apostolic origin, He
attempts to find out something about the history of each text: From where did we get this text?
Who wrote it? Is it authentic? Which dioceses are familiar with this text, and use it?
Origen divides the works into three categories:
(a) Those “received by all”
(b) “Disputed works” (Some bishops accepted the work, others did not)
(c) Those “rejected by all”
Origen’s first two categories included:
Matthew. Mark. Luke, John
Acts of ‘he Apostles
1 3 Pauline epistles (all except Hcbreus)
Apocalypse of John
Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews
2 & 3 John
Epistle of Barnabas
Shepherd of Hermas
Gospel of the Hebreqs
The entire NT canon is already present in these two categories, with 4 non-canonical texts still
disputed (in gray). Never did the all the world’s bishops affirm a non-canonical text.
Eusebius: Bishop of Caesarea: Early fourth century
Following Origen, Eusebius produces his own categorization of works in his Ecclesiastical
History, polling bishops to find out how they viewed each text. Because of heresy and schism,
Eusebius only considered the opinions of those bishops in communion with the whole Church.
He produced a similar three-fold list, but subdivided the “disputed” category into a better half
(works broadly but not universally received as divinely inspired) and a worse half (works whose
inspiration was doubted by many).
Received bv few bishops
Epistle of Barnabas
Shepherd of Hermas
Gospel of the Hebrews
Acts Of Paul
Apocalypse of peter
Received by all bishops
Matthew. Mark. Luke. John
The Acts orthe Apostles
All 14 Pauline epistles
Apocalypse Of John
Received by most bishop+
2 & 3 John
(The first two categories contain only those books which comprise our canon today,)
Emperor Constantine ordered Eusebius to produce a “standard” edition of Scripture for the
realm, which likely included Eusebius’ canonical list. 50 volumes were produced and distributed
throughout the East.
St. Athanasius approved of Eusebius’ categorization ofworks in his Epistola Festalis of 367 AD
Pope Damasus and St. Jerome: Late founh century
Because neither of the recent ecumenical councils (Constantinople or Nicaea) had addressed the
issue of the canon. pope Damasus decided to hold the Synod Of Rome in 382 AD. St. Jerome,
whose prestige was well-known, was invited and consulted. The synod promulgated a canonical
list identical to the one we use today.
This standardized the canon throughout the Western, European region of the Church
Synods of Hippo (393) and Carthage (393, 397, 419) and St. Augustine: Late fourth century
The synods Of Hippo and Carthage promulgated the same canon Of Scripture. Pope St, Boniface I
(418-422) ratified the decision made by Carthage in 397 and sent the decision to the Eastern
patriarchs in Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, establishing uniformity throughout the Church
worldwide. In 419 the Synod of Carthage reaffirmed what Pope St. Boniface had proclaimed_
The Vulgate: End of fourth century
By the end of the fourth century, St. Jerome had completed his Vulgate translation Of the Bible,
which followed the canon promulgated by the Synod of Rome. This became the Standard edition
of the Scriptures throughout Christendom for well over the next millenium.
The Council of Trent:
Questions about the canon did not vex the Church again until the Reformation. Prompted by
Luther’s rejection of certain books of the Old Testament, and skepticism about James, the
Ecumenical Council Of Trent infallibly decreed the traditional canon was correct in its fourth
session, which issued The Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures on April 8, 1546.