Friday, August 26, 2011

She asked, “When was the first bible published?”

The other day my daughter Julie asked me a question that I couldn’t remember the answer to. I started doing research (I love the Internet. In the “olden days” I used to look things up in the World Book Encyclopedia). That’s a plus for the cyber-culture of the present.

I knew about when the King James Bible was printed, and that is the one most bible scholars and theologians prefer, but I knew there was a time line of Bible translation history. And you know I love history! I got so engrossed in reading about the bibles and the men who had a part in their history, time went by so fast and the morning just flew by!

This is just bits and pieces of what I learned. This is my story. I may be wrong about some things I found – if it was true or false – that is any written word these days.

1,400 BC: The first written Word of God was The Ten Commandments delivered to Moses.

500 BC: Completion of all original Hebrew manuscripts, which make up the 39 Books of the Old Testament.

200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint Greek manuscripts, which contain The 39 Old Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.

Then after Christ was born there was:

1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek manuscripts, which make up the 27 Books of the New Testament.

382 AD: Jerome’s Latin Vulgate manuscripts produced, which contain all 80 Books (39 Old Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Testament)

600 AD: LATIN was the only language allowed for Scripture. (This was called the Dark Ages, because the Bible as we know it was only allowed to be written in Latin. No one could read it except the theologians who knew Latin)

1384 AD: Wycliffe is the first person to produce a (hand-written) manuscript copy of the complete bible; All 80 Books. (When I think of Wycliffe sitting at a table writing the whole bible in longhand that just astounds me. What dedication! I wonder how long it took him?)

1455 AD: Gutenberg invents the printing press; books may now be mass-produced instead of individually hand-written. The first book ever printed is Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.

According to the Gutenberg Museum, 48 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible exist today, out of a possible 180 copies originally printed. There are countless rare books in the world, but by most expert’s standards the rarest of them all is the Gutenberg Bible. It was the first book ever printed back in 1456, and a complete first edition would net you $25-$35 million. In today’s market single pages alone go for $25,000 each, and several years ago just one volume (it’s a 2 volume set) sold for $5.5 million.

For approximately 4,500 years before Gutenberg invented the printing press, books were produced by hand. They were written on surfaces of clay, papyrus, wax, and parchment. Law books, cookbooks, works of philosophy and science, great comedies and tragedies were all painstakingly copied and all too often lost through war and neglect. I cannot imagine what we lost in the written word all those thousands of years. So much history was lost. I always tell people to save your letters and diaries and journals because they are history lessons in the making.

1611 AD: The King James Bible printed; Originally with all 80 Books. The Apocrypha was officially removed in 1885 leaving only 66 Books.

As to why the King James Bible came about I found this to be interesting.

As the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) was coming to a close, we find a draft for an act of Parliament for a new version of the Bible: “An act for the reducing of diversities of bibles now extant in the English tongue to one settled vulgar translated from the original.” The Bishop’s Bible of 1568, although it may have eclipsed the Great Bible, was still rivaled by the Geneva Bible. Nothing ever became of this draft during the reign of Elizabeth, who died in 1603, but when James was king. The king rejoined that he:

“Could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst. I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.”

Forty-seven scholars were known to have taken part in the work of translation. The translation was finished in 1611. Thus we have the King James Bible.

So now I have the answer to Julie’s question. When was the first bible? It depends on what you call The Bible…which one to you mean? I wish I had one of the Gutenberg Bibles.

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