FOUNDATIONS OF THE
In order to appreciate fully the total process by which the Bible was
transmitted from the first to the twentieth century, certain mechanical
items must be discussed (e.g., preparation, age, and preservation of
manuscripts). Along with these technical matters of transmission, certain
definitions are basic to the understanding of this crucial "link" in the
chain "from God to us."
As used here, genuineness refers to the truth of the origin
of a document, that is, its authorship.
It answers the questions:
|Is this document really from its alleged source
Is it genuinely the work of the stated writer?
This refers to the truth of the facts and content of the
documents of the Bible.
Authenticity deals with the integrity
(trustworthiness) and credibility (truthfulness) of the record.
A book may be genuine without being authentic -
|if the professed writer is the real one - even if
the content is untrue.
Then, again, a book may be authentic without being
|if the book would be called forged or spurious
- regardless of the truthfulness or falsity of its content.
Biblical books of course must be both genuine and authentic or they cannot
be inspired, because in either case there would be a falsehood. It is assumed that a biblical book, which has
divine authority, and hence credibility, and has been transmitted with
integrity, will automatically have genuineness. If there be a lie in the
book regarding its origin and/or authorship, how can its content be
Guarantee of Authenticity (and
The whole chain of revelation must be examined in order to demonstrate
with certainty that the fact and route of revelation are found in the
history of the Bible known to Christians today.
A complete chain "from God
to us" will consist of the following necessary "links."
||This is the first link in the chain of
The existence of a God who desires to communicate Himself
to man is the one irreducible axiom of this entire study.
||The next link is apostolicity.
That God accredited and directed a group of men known as
prophets and apostles to speak authoritatively for Him is the
repeated claim of the biblical writers.
||A somewhat parenthetic but necessary
link is canonicity.
It answers the historical question: Which are the inspired
prophetic and apostolic books and how are they known?
They are those books that were
|written by men of God,
confirmed by acts of God,
came with the authority and power of God,
told the truth about God and man,
were accepted and collected by the people of God
||The direct result of apostolicity
is authority, as circumscribed by the limits of canonicity.
The teaching of men who were divinely accredited for that
purpose is divinely authoritative teaching.
In that sense, authority is just a logical link,
consequent upon apostolicity as apostolicity is, in turn,
dependent upon deity, or, rather, upon God's
desire to communicate to men.
||Likewise, authenticity is the
necessary result of authority, which is derived from
apostolicity, deity, and so on.
Whatever is spoken of God must be true, because God is
the very standard of truth itself (cf. Heb. 6:18). The
Scriptures are authentic (true in content) if they are
the prophetic voice of God.
Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of
promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God
to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for
refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. (NKJV)
||This is the historic evidence
that links authenticity and credibility.
Anything authentic or true is of course credible.
The question is, does the twentieth-century Bible possess integrity?
To put it another way, does it adequately and accurately
reproduce the original apostolic writings known as the autographs?
Sometimes these were inaccurately called "originals" and
sometimes incorrectly defined as the original writing from the hand of an
apostle or prophet.
In reality autographs are
|the authentic apostolic writings produced
under the direction and/or authorization of a prophet or apostle.
An autograph would not necessarily have to be written by an apostle's
own hand - Paul often used a secretary
(Rom.16:22), as did Jeremiah
I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.
Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words which Baruch
had written at the instruction of Jeremiah, the word of the LORD
came to Jeremiah, saying: "Take yet another scroll, and write
on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which
Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned." (NKJV)
Nor does an autograph necessarily have to be the "first edition" of a
Jeremiah, for example, produced two editions of his scroll to
Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:28 - above)
Similarly, some students of the gospels have
suggested that Mark may have had two editions.
The autographs are not extant (in known existence).
So they must be
reconstructed from early manuscripts and versions.
The earliest Old
Testament translation into Greek is the Septuagint (LXX) begun in
Alexandria, Egypt, during the third century B.C.
The earliest versions, or
translations of the New Testament into other languages, for example, the
Syriac and Latin, extend back to the threshold of the second century. They
began to appear just over a generation from the time the New Testament was
Citations of the Fathers
The corroborative quotations of the
fathers from the first few centuries, totaling over 36,000, include almost
every verse of the New Testament. Some of these citations begin in the
first century, and they continue in an unbroken succession from that time
These were in Greek and extended practically to the
first century in fragmentary form and to the third and fourth centuries in
The earliest manuscripts, known as uncials, were written
in capital letters throughout.
Later manuscripts, known as minuscules,
were written in lower case letters or in flowing letters, cursives.
manuscripts were written on scrolls and others as books,
codex form, from
which they are known as codices.
The ancient manuscripts are the most important witnesses to the
autographs and they form the basis for the modern
versions of the Bible.
Some early modern versions were based on medieval versions; however, since the discoveries of the great
manuscripts of the New Testament and other miscellaneous items, most
recent versions and translations are based on the latter.
Another factor that enhances confidence in the fidelity of the transmitted
text is derived from a consideration of the copying and subsequent care of
The Old Testament
Although it is impossible to fix with certainty the
beginning of Hebrew writing, it was pre-Mosaic.
Thus, from an early date
the Scriptures were copied. These copies were made according to different
criteria, depending on the purpose of the manuscript being copied.
are no manuscripts in existence dating from before the Babylonian
captivity (586 B.C.), but there was a great flood of copies of the
Scriptures dating from the Talmudic period (c. 300 B.C.-A.D. 500).
that period there were two general classes of manuscript copies.
|Synagogue Rolls, and
1. Synagogue Rolls
The synagogue rolls were regarded as "sacred copies" of the Old
Testament text and were used in public meeting places.
||on one roll
||on another roll
||on two other rolls
||on five separate rolls
The Megilloth were no doubt
produced on separate rolls to facilitate their being read at the annual
Strict rules were employed so that these rolls would be copied
Samuel Davidson related these rules rather meticulously when
||A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of
||Prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by
||These must be fastened together with strings taken
from clean animals
||Every skin must contain a certain number of
columns, equal throughout the entire codex
||The length of each column must not extend over less
than 48 nor more than 60 lines; and the breadth must consist
of thirty letters
||The whole copy must be first-lined; and if three
words should be written without a line, it is worthless
||The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor
any other color, and be prepared according to a definite recipe
||An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which
the transcriber ought not in the least deviate
||No word or letter, not even a yod, must be
written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex
||Between every consonant the space of a hair or
thread must intervene
||Between every new parashah, or
section, the breadth of nine consonants
||Between every book, three lines
||The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with
a line; but the rest need not do so
||Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish
||Wash his whole body
||Not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly
dipped in ink
||Should a king address him while writing that name
he must take no notice of him
Three of these books were on one roll of poetry: Job, Psalms, and
and three other books were on the other: Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah,
At the Passover, the Song of Songs was read
it was Ruth;
Tabernacles featured Ecclesiastes;
Purim used Esther;
the Anniversary of the Destruction of Jerusalem, Lamentations was read.
2. Private Copies
The private copies were regarded as "common copies" of the Old
Testament text and were not used in public meetings.
These rolls, although
not governed by such strict rules as the synagogue rolls, were prepared
with great care.
They were frequently ornamented, often took a codex form, and sometimes included marginal notes and commentaries.
Because they were private copies, the desires of the purchaser were
paramount in choosing such things as the size, material, form, and ink
color. Seldom did an individual have a collection of scrolls that
contained the entire Old Testament.
The New Testament
Although the autographs of the New Testament have long
since disappeared, there is enough evidence to warrant the statement that
those documents were written in rolls and books made of
Testament had been copied into the “books and the
parchments,” but the New
Testament was probably written on papyrus between about A.D. 50 and
During this period, papyrus rolls were used, and papyrus survived long
periods of time only when placed in rather unusual circumstances. By the
early second century, codices were introduced but they too were still
generally made of papyrus.
As a by-product of the persecutions, culminating with the Edict
of Diocletian in 302-303, the Scriptures were
jeopardized and not systematically copied. It was with the Letter of
Constantine to Eusebius that systematic copying of the New Testament began
in the West.
From that time, vellum and parchment were used along with the
It was not until the Reformation era that printed copies of the Bible
Because there was no printing process available at the time of manuscript
copying of the Scriptures, the age of manuscripts must be determined by
other means than a publisher's date. The process of dating is not nearly
as accurate as finding the publication date printed on the title page of a
modern book, but it is relatively accurate.
The materials of a given manuscript copy may provide the basis
for discovering its date.
Such materials as stone (not used for
manuscripts), papyrus, vellum, parchment, and leather.
purposes, only those materials that could be utilized in making rolls
and/or books will be considered.
||Skins were possibly the earliest materials used, and they were at first
of coarse texture and made rather heavy, bulky rolls. These materials were
used early in Hebrew history and led to refinements in the post captivity
||Papyrus rolls were used in the New Testament period, largely because of
their inexpensive character when compared with vellum and parchment.
||Papyrus codices were introduced when attempts at collecting the
individual rolls revealed that there was a need to make them less
cumbersome to handle.
Formerly each book or group of books was written on
a single roll, but this multiplicity of rolls was replaced by codices in
the early second century.
||Vellum was prepared from animal skins,
chiefly from lambs and young goats, and was rather costly.
It was used for more expensive copies of manuscripts.
||Parchment was used as early as the days of the New Testament
(2 Tim 4:13).
|2 Timothy 4:13
Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come
— and the books, especially the parchments.
Because there are various qualities of
parchment and vellum writing material made from animal skins, they were
often used during the same period of time.
Codices of the two materials
did not appear generally until after the Edict of Diocletian and were the
primary materials used in manuscript copying in the Middle Ages.
||Redressed parchment was used for copying manuscripts after the original
writing had become faded. Sometimes parchments were "erased" and
"rewritten," as in the case of the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C),
known as a
|(Greek, "rubbed again")
Needless to say, these manuscripts would be of a later date
than the earlier text on the parchment.
||Paper was invented in China in the
second century A.D.
|introduced into Eastern Turkistan
||as early as the fourth century
|manufactured in Arabia
||in the eighth century
|introduced into Europe
||in the tenth century
|manufactured in Europe
||in the twelfth century
||by the thirteenth century
There were, of course, developments in the manufacture of paper,
for example, with hemp, flax, linen, and rag content.
Thus, the materials used in the manufacture of writing
material on which manuscripts were copied assist in determining
Letter size and form
Evidence is also provided by letter size and form
for the date of a given manuscript.
The earliest form of Hebrew writing
was in the prong-like letters of the old Phoenician alphabet.
prevailed until the return from the Babylonian captivity in Nehemiah's
time (c. 444 B.C.).
After Nehemiah the Jews apparently adopted the Aramaic
script, as it became the vernacular language during the fifth century B.C. At that time, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Aramaic; then, after about 200 B.C. it was copied in the square letters of Aramaic
The square characters of extant manuscripts are not identical to those of
that early period, but they are direct descendants. The discovery of the
Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran in 1947 brought even more precision to the
study of Hebrew paleography, as it has brought a large quantity of early
biblical and non biblical manuscripts to light. These manuscripts have
provided the first examples of Hebrew texts from pre-Christian times, a
thousand years earlier than the oldest Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts
The Qumran manuscripts reveal three main types of text and indicate
differences in matters of spelling, grammatical forms and, to some extent, wording from the Masoretic text. By the time of the
Masoretes (c. A.O.
500-1000), the principles of the late Talmudic period (c. A.o.300-500)
became rather stereotyped.
Greek manuscripts were written in two general styles during the New
Testament period: literary and nonliterary.
The New Testament was probably
written in nonliterary style. In fact, for the first three centuries, the
New Testament was undoubtedly circulated outside the channels of ordinary
Whereas the literary hand was well-rounded, graceful, and handsome, the
nonliterary was smaller, square lettered, sprinkled with variants, and
exhibited a general lack of literary exactness.
The written repositories
of Christian tradition were not plentiful during the first three
centuries, and the records that were preserved included various oral and
written traditions according to the individual interpreters involved in
the given historical situation.
The style of writing was slow and laborious during the early centuries of
the church, as the letters were capital (uncial), written separately, and
without breaks between words or sentences. Uncial manuscripts were copied
through the tenth century; but before they became less prominent, a new
form of writing was introduced into the field, which is called minuscule
or cursive writing. By the tenth century, the demand for manuscript copies
caused the more fluid cursive style to outstrip the cumbersome uncial
Thus, by the golden age of manuscript copying, the eleventh through
fifteenth centuries, this new running hand employing small and connected
letters was the dominant form of manuscript copying. It was superseded in
the fifteenth century by printed manuscripts, after the introduction of
movable typeset by Johann Gutenberg.
During the centuries when handwriting underwent its gradual process of
development, one form gave way to another almost imperceptibly.
Considerable time is generally required to produce significant changes in
the shapes of letters and the general appearance of the script. Bruce M.
Metzger observes the quite marked differences in the average hand from
about A.D. 900 to 1300.
As time went on, there was a very great increase in the number of
ligatures; there was a general decline in the minuscule hand as scribes
apparently devoted less care to their handiwork and copied rapidly;
considerable diversity developed in handwriting; and in some cases the
writing became irregular, with letters that varied considerably in size.
The shape of breathing marks changed from square to round shape between
1000 and 1300.
In addition to the evolution of minuscule script there was
an intrusion, in ever greater numbers, of uncial forms of
certain letters which replaced the corresponding minuscule forms.
Further light is added to the age of a given manuscript by
At first, words were run together, and very little
punctuation was used.
"During the sixth and seventh centuries, scribes
began to use punctuation marks more liberally."
The actual process of
change proceeded from space less writing, to spaced writing, addition of end punctuation (periods), commas, colons, breath and accent marks
(seventh-eighth centuries), interrogation marks, and so on. It was a long
slow process that was rather complete by the tenth century, in time for
the minuscules and the golden age of manuscript copying.
It was not until the thirteenth
century that modern chapter divisions appeared, and not until the
sixteenth century that modern verses were introduced. But this development
occurred prior to the mass distribution of the printed Bible, and it
augmented the influence of the
King James Version of the
Also involved in the dating of a given manuscript
were such miscellaneous factors as the size and shape of letters within
the uncial miniscule groupings of manuscripts.
factor in dating of manuscripts; from the fourth to the late ninth
centuries the ornamentation of manuscripts became more elaborate in the
After that time, they became less ornate and less carefully
Spelling was modified during the
centuries, just as it is in living languages, and that helps
The color of the ink used is
another important factor. At first only black ink was used,
but green, red, and other colors were added later.
Finally, the texture and
color of parchment help date a manuscript. The means
of parchment production changed, quality and texture were modified,
and the aging process added another cause for color change in the
Although manuscripts give information as to their date, and their quality
is governed by their preparation, the preservation of given manuscripts
adds vital support to their relative value for the textual critic and
student of the Bible. That may be illustrated by a cursory treatment of
manuscript preservation in general.
Old Testament manuscripts
These manuscripts generally fall into two
general periods of evidence.
||The Talmudic Period
||(c. 300 B.C.-A.D. 500)
|The Talmudic period produced a great flood of manuscripts that were used in the synagogues and for private study. In
comparison to the later Masoretic period, for the Temple and synagogues
there were very few, but they were careful "official" copies.
By the time
of the Maccabean revolt (168 B.C.), the Syrians had destroyed most of the
existing manuscripts of the Old Testament.
The Dead Sea Scrolls (c. 167
B.C.-A.D. 133) have made an immense contribution to Old Testament critical
There were many manuscript copies, confirming for the most part the
textual tradition of the Masoretes.
||The Masoretic Period
||(flourished c. A.D. 500-1000)
|The Masoretic period of Old Testament
manuscript copying indicates a complete review of established
rules, a deep reverence for the Scriptures, and a
systematic renovation of transmission techniques.
The New Testament manuscripts
New Testament manuscripts fall into four
general periods of development.
||The first three centuries -
|Witnessed a composite testimony as to the
integrity of the New Testament Scriptures.
Because of the illegal position
of Christianity, it cannot be expected that many, if any, complete
manuscripts from that period are to be found. Therefore, textual critics
must be content to examine whatever evidence has survived, that is, non
biblical papyri, biblical papyri, ostraca, inscriptions, and lectionaries
that bear witness to the manuscripts of the New Testament.
||The fourth and fifth centuries -
|Brought a legalization of Christianity and a
multiplication of manuscripts of the New Testament.
These manuscripts, on vellum and parchment generally,
were copies of earlier papyri and bear witness to this
||From the sixth century onward -
|Monks collected, copied, and
cared for New Testament manuscripts in the monasteries.
This was a period of rather uncritical production,
and it brought about an increase in manuscript quantity,
but with a corresponding decrease in quality.
||After the tenth century -
|Uncials gave way to minuscules, and
copies of manuscripts multiplied rapidly.
The classical writings of Greece and Rome
These writings illustrate the
character of biblical manuscript preservation in a candid fashion.
contrast to the total of 5,366 partial and complete New Testament
manuscripts known today, the Iliad of Homer has only 643, The
Peloponnesian War of Thucydides only eight, while Tacitus's works rely on
but two manuscripts.
The abundance of biblical evidence would lead one to conclude
with Sir Frederic Kenyon that
Or, as he goes on to say,
|"The Christian can take the whole Bible in
his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the
true word of God, handed down without essential loss from
generation to generation throughout the centuries."
This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.
|"The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from
it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so
large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every
doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient
Summary and Conclusion
Between the autograph and the modem Bible extends an important link in the
overall chain "from God to us" known as transmission.
It provides a
positive answer to the question:
|Do Bible scholars today possess an accurate copy
of the autographs?
Obviously, the authenticity and authority
of the Bible cannot be established unless it is known that the present
copies have integrity. In support of the integrity of the text, an
overwhelming number of ancient documents may be presented.
For the New Testament, beginning with the second century ancient versions
and manuscript fragments and continuing with abundant quotations of the
Fathers and thousands of manuscript copies from that time to the modem
versions of the Bible, there is virtually an unbroken line of testimony.
Furthermore, there are not only countless manuscripts to support the
integrity of the Bible (including the Old Testament since the discovery of
the Dead Sea Scrolls), but a study of the procedures of preparation and
preservation of the biblical manuscript copies reveals the fidelity of the
transmission process itself.
In fact, it may be concluded that no major
document from antiquity comes into the modem world with such evidence of
its integrity as does the Bible.