Copyright © By Dr. Adel Elsaie, Book Title: "History of Truth, The Truth about God and Religions"
6.1 Versions of the New Testament
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The Septuagint and Other Greek Versions
The King James Version and Its Revisions
The Roman Catholic Versions
The New Testament consists of 27 documents written between 60? - 150? AD. Although some have argued that Aramaic originals lie behind some of the Gospels, especially the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews all have been circulated in Greek. For a period of time, some Christian scholars treated the Greek of the New Testament as a special kind of religious language. It is now known that the language of the New Testament was koine, i.e. common Greek that was used everywhere. The 27 books of the New Testament are only a fraction of the Christian scriptures in their first three centuries. The New Testament was widely copied and recopied. As many as 50 Gospels were circulating during this time. Many of these non-canonical Christian writings have been collected and published as New Testament Apocrypha, i.e. doubtful authority.
Existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament - complete, partial, or fragmentary - now number about 5000. It is important to know that none of these manuscripts have the signature of its author. Probably the oldest is a fragment of the Gospel of John dated about 120 to 140 AD. There are broad similarities among these manuscripts. Discrepancies, however, involve omissions and additions. The more significant of these variants usually appear in English translations as footnotes citing what other ancient authorities say. For example, John 7:53 - 8:11 has a footnote saying that the oldest and the best Greek copies do not have these verses according to the Bible, Easy to Read Version. So, who added them, and why?
Tracing the history of the development of the New Testament by noting which of the books were quoted or cited by the early Fathers of the Church is an uncertain process. It seems that the earliest attempt to establish a canon was made about 150 AD by a heretical Christian named Marcion, whose acceptable list included the Gospel of Luke and Ten Pauline Epistles, edited in a strong anti-Jewish language. Perhaps opposition to Marcion accelerated efforts toward a canon of wide acceptance.
By 200 AD, 20 of the 27 books of the New Testament seem to have been generally regarded as acceptable. However differences still existed between the Eastern and Western Churches. Generally speaking, the books that were disputed for some time but were finally included were James, Hebrews, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, 2 Peter, and Revelation. Other books widely favored but finally rejected, were Barnabas, 1 Clement, Hermas, and the Didache
As was mentioned before, the Jewish Bible was written in Hebrew, except for a few sections in Aramaic. When Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the language of everyday life, translations to Hebrew became necessary. This fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew helped the Jews to reserve their Scriptures. On the other hand, the New Testament was written in Greek and Aramaic. The present English translation of the Bible came from a long history of translation, collection, and interpretations, as outlined in the following:
One would assume that the word of God that was delivered to Jesus would be recorded somehow. Moses got the Ten Commandments written on tablets and Muhammad got his revelations immediately recorded and memorized. So what happened to the original New Testament? This is one of the biggest mysteries in Christianity. It is agreed upon that the original manuscripts of the Christian Bible have perished!
The rapid spread of Christianity beyond the regions where Greek prevailed necessitated translations into Syrian, Old Latin, Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopian, and Arabic. Syrian and Latin versions existed as early as the second century, and Coptic translations began to appear in the third century. These early versions were in no sense official translations but happened to meet regional needs in worship and preaching. The translations were, therefore, conducted in local languages by unknown translators and often included only selected portions of the New Testament.
The Septuagint and Other Greek Versions
The first major Greek version is called the Septuagint (from "seventy") because of the legend that seventy scholars in Alexandria translated the Torah in the third century BC. The legend narrated how seventy translators had worked in independent cells and had all come up with the identical versions of the sacred text. Thus the Septuagint often ranked as an inspired version. Some of the Fathers of the Church thought the legend had been ridiculous, while others adhered firmly to it. Eventually other scholars, whose skills and backgrounds differed, translated the remaining Hebrew Scriptures.
The most valuable versions of the Hebrew Bible are the translations into Greek. In some instances the Greek versions actually offer readings superior to the Hebrew, being based on older Hebrew texts. Many of the existing Greek manuscripts are much older than the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible; they were included in copies of the Christian Bible that date from the fourth and fifth centuries. The oldest and the most complete text of the Old and New Testaments are in the form of fragments as different from scrolls, are:
Codex Vaticanus is located in the Vatican Library and whose place of discovery is unknown. It contains nearly all the Greek Bible, but lacks Mark 16:9-20.
Codex Sinaiticus is located in the British Museum. It contains almost all the New Testament (Lacks Mark 16:9-20, and John 7:53- 8:11), and over half of the Old Testament. Tischendorf in the Mount Sinai Monastery discovered it in a wastebasket in 1844. It was presented by the Monastery to the Russian Tsar, and bought by the British Government for 100,000 pounds on Christmas Day 1933.
Codex Alexandrinus is located in the British Museum. It is believed that it was written in Greek in Alexandria, Egypt.
Numerous other Greek translations were discovered; most of them existing only in fragments or quotations by the early Fathers of the Church and others.
During the fourth and fifth centuries, efforts were made to replace the old Latin versions with more standardized and widely accepted translations. Missionaries perhaps translated pieces of the Bible into Latin. Pope Damasus I in 382 commissioned St. Jerome to generate a Latin Bible using many individual efforts. This Bible, known as the Vulgate, (Latin vulgata, "popular edition") aroused deep opposition. As is usually the case, the new version slowly and painfully replaced the old versions.
Christianity reached England with a Latin Bible. There was a need to offer an English Bible for both the clergy and the laymen. Between the seventh and fourteenth centuries, parts of the Bible were roughly translated into English as an aid to the clergy. Interest in translation from Latin to English grew rapidly in the fourteenth century, and in 1382 the first complete English Bible appeared in manuscript. It was the work of the English scholar John Wycliffe, whose goal was to give the Bible to the people.
In 1525 the English scholar William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the Greek text. It was printed in Germany and smuggled into England. Tyndale's translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew text was only partly completed. His simple writing and popular expression established a style in English translation that dominated future versions.
In 1535 the English scholar Miles Coverdale published an English translation based on German and Latin versions in addition to Tyndale's. This was not only the first complete English Bible to appear in printed form, but unlike its predecessors, it was an approved version by the Canterbury Convocation. Later, Oliver Cromwell nominated Coverdale to produce a new Bible, which appeared in six editions between 1539 and 1568. This Bible was called the Great Bible, which was primarily a scholarly Bible. The next important version was produced in Geneva in 1560 by English Protestants in exile, and was called the Geneva Bible. This Bible contained several innovations including the division of chapters into numbered verses. The final revision of the Great Bible, in 1568, by scholars and bishops of the Anglican Church was known as the Bishops' Bible. This Bible was designed to replace the Great Bible with a translation for the laymen.
The King James Version and Its Revisions
In 1604 King James I commissioned a new revision of the English Bible; it was completed in 1611. Following Tyndale primarily, this Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version, was widely acclaimed for its beauty and simplicity of style. In the years that followed, the Authorized Version underwent several revisions, the most notable being the English Revised Version (1881-85), the American Standard Version (1901), and the revision of the American Standard Version undertaken by the International Council of Religious Education, representing 40 Protestant denominations in the US and Canada. This Revised Standard Version (RSV) appeared between 1946 and 1952. Widely accepted by Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic Christians, it provided the basis for the first accepted English Bible. In the Preface of the RSV, 1971, the following is written:
"The King James Version has grave defects. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the development of Biblical studies and the discovery of many manuscripts more ancient than those upon which the King James Version was based, made it manifest, that these defects are so many and so serious as to call for the revision of the English translation." The preface continued to refer to the unhappy experience with unauthorized publications, "which tampered with the text of the English Revised Version, in the supposed interest of the American public."
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989) eliminated much obsolete and ambiguous usage. The New King James Bible, with contemporary American vocabulary, was published in 1982. The Holy Bible, Easy-to-Read version, in 1987 and 1989, was adapted from the existing text by the World Bible Translation Center to represent present day English.
The Roman Catholic Versions
Roman Catholics in English-speaking countries commonly used the Douay or Douay-Rheims Bible, completed between 1582 and 1609, until the eighteenth century, when the English bishop Richard Challoner considerably revised it. The Douay Bible was a translation from the Latin Vulgate, primarily the work of two English exiles in France, William Allen (1532-1594) and Gregory Martin (1540? -1582). During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Roman Catholics replaced the Douay and Challoner Bibles with other translations. In the United States, one of the most widely used is the New American Bible of 1970. It is the first complete Bible to be translated from Hebrew and Greek by American Roman Catholics.
The Roman Catholic Version, RCV, is the oldest version that one can buy today. Despite its antiquity, the whole Protestant world condemns the RCV, because it contains seven extra books, which they refer to as the Apocrypha. Notwithstanding the terrible warning contained in the Apocalypse, which is the last book in the RCV (renamed as "Revelation" by the Protestant), it is "revealed":
Revelation 22:18-19 "If any man shall add unto these things God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
In spite of the above warning, the Protestants have eliminated or the Catholics have added seven whole books from their "Word of God". These books are: Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 Machabees, and 2 Machabees.