How We Got Our Bible: Did You Know?
The oldest surviving manuscript of any part of the New Testament is a papyrus fragment containing verses from John 18; scholars estimate it was written about 125.
We may have sayings of Jesus that are not recorded in the four Gospels. They come from books that never made it into the New Testament but which nonetheless contain some reliable historical information. Extra-biblical sayings that might be from the lips of Jesus: “The one who is near me is near the fire; the one who is far from me is far from the kingdom”; “There shall be divisions and heresies”; “No one can obtain the kingdom of heaven who has not passed through temptation.”
Many early Christians, to discover the answer to a problem, would randomly open the Bible, read the first line their eye fell upon, and consider it a divine message for them. So popular was this practice, it had to be repeatedly condemned by early church councils.
The word Bible comes from the Greek word for “papyrus plant” (biblos), since the leaves of that plant were used for paper.
In the ancient and medieval worlds, some Christians memorized large portions of Scripture. Eusebius of Caesarea said he once met a blind Egyptian who “possessed whole books of the Holy Scriptures … in his heart.”
The Roman Catholic Bible is larger than the Protestant, but the largest Bible in Christendom belongs to the Ethiopic church. It contains the Old Testament Apocrypha and books such as Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Joseph Ben Gurion’s medieval history of the Jews and other nations, Ethiopic Clement, and the Ethiopic Book of the Covenant.
The cost of a Bible in the 1300s might easily amount to a priest’s whole yearly income.
The medieval church did not object to Bible translations; by the early 1500s, there were Bibles in ...