How We Got Our Bible: From the Editor — Reading the Bible Backwards
A STUNNING PANEL from the St. John Altar on Patmos, painted in 1518, shows the apostle John in lush, tropical surrounding, gazing up at a cloud from which a figure of God gives forth a stream of light. John, pen in hand, sits ready to write his Revelation. The painting dramatically pictures what we at Christian History believe: All Scripture is inspired by God.
Yet we also know that God usually works through history to accomplish his will. This is certainly true when it comes to the Bible. The Bible is not only a history of divine action in the world, it is also a divine book with a history of its own, a sometimes violent and controversial history.
The history of the Bible is such an immense topic, we’ve been able only to glance at the Middle Ages, and we’ve stopped with the Authorized or King James Version. Still, we’ve tried to capture the history of the Bible as a mystery to be solved, seeking answers to ever deeper questions.
We begin with the more recent and familiar, “The Crown of English Bibles”—a look at the King James and earlier English versions, going back to John Wycliffe’s. The curious, of course, ask, “But what happened with the Bible before Wycliffe?” So, “The Gallery” gives a glimpse of the Bible’s leading players in the early church and Middle Ages.
The more curious still look further back: How did Christian scholars know which ancient books were to be regarded as Christian Scripture? Click on “A Testament is Born” to find a fascinating answer to this knotty question. Going back even further, one wonders how we determined which books belong in the first half of our Bible. “How We Got Our Old Testament” gives a succinct explanation.
Finally, we try to answer the most basic questions—about the very papyrus and vellum upon which biblical words were copied. “Discovering the Oldest New Testaments” and “From the Apostles to You” offer some intriguing answers.
And that will likely elicit even more questions—and perhaps a sense of awe that God, in his providence, has preserved his Word through the many twists and turns and rapids of history.
P.S. Be sure to look for the “How We Got Our Bible” documentary/curriculum, produced by Ken Curtis, founder of Christian History. The series was released in early 1995 and is an excellent resource for churches and study groups. Call Gateway Films (1–800–523–0226) for more information.
By Mark Galli
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #43 in 1994]Mark Galli, managing Editor.
The Fiery Man Behind the First English Bible
John Wycliffe left quite an impression on the church.Stephen Miller
The Bible on our Lips
Phrases from the Bible.the Editors
What the English Bible Cost One Man
Tyndale’s comfort to persecuted Bible readers.Mark Galli
The Difference a Translation Makes
Early attempts to capture Psalm 23.Wycliffe Bible (Purvey Edition, 1388)