How We Got Our Bible: Recommended Resources

LET THE READER BE WARNED: with few exceptions, the history of the Bible is mostly the study of documents and so makes for daunting reading. Still, the patient reader will be rewarded.

The standard work in the field is the three-volume Cambridge History of the Bible, edited by S.L. Greenslade, et al., (Cambridge, 1963–1970)—a comprehensive collection of essays, covering topics broad (The Bible in the Reformation) and narrow (Theodore of Mopsuestia as Representative of the Antiochene School).

F. F. Bruce’s The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible, 3rd ed. (Revell, 1963) is detailed, one-volume treatment. A captivating survey is H. G. G. Herklots’s How Our Bible Came to Us (Oxford, 1954), and Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan have edited a handy one-volume reference, The Oxford Companion to the Bible(Oxford, 1993).


Brave souls who venture into the complex world of canon studies will be well served by three guides. Hans van Campenhausen’s The Formation of the Christian Bible (Fortress, 1972) covers both Old and New Testaments in comprehensive fashion. Bruce M. Metzger, in The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford, 1989) and Roger T. Beckwith, in The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans, 1985) do the same for their respective topics.

English Bible

Narrowing the focus to the English Bible, there is no better place to begin than F.F. Bruce’s The English Bible: A History of Translations from the Earliest English Versions to the New English Bible, rev. ed. (Oxford, 1970)—a readable overview of both personalities and Bible versions.

Gustavus Paine, for many years a newspaper editor, put journalistic skills to use in an engaging narrative about the people and politics behind the KJV in The Learned Men (Thomas Crowell, 1959).

For those who want to focus on the Bible after the KJV, two books will help. Jack P. Lewis’s The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation (Baker, 1982) delivers what it promises, and Sakae Kubo and Walter Sprecht in So Many Versions? Twentieth-century English Versions of the Bible (Zondervan, 1983) sort out the distinctions among the modern versions. 

By Mark Galli

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #43 in 1994]

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