The Book of Books

The Word "Bible"

        The word "Bible" means "the book." In both the Latin and Greek languages the term "Biblia" is a plural noun and signifies "The Books." Originally, the Bible was not one book but a collection of books - in fact, a whole library. It was only in about the fourth century that the seventy two books of the Bible were combined to form the "volume." Eventually, the plural "Biblia" became a singular noun, and in modern languages signifies "the book." The passing of the word "Biblia" from the plural into the singular was no doubt occasioned by an understanding of the real character of the Bible: While the human authors were many, the Divine Author is but one. The Bible is called "The Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16) and "Holy Scriptures" (Romans 1:2).

The Word "Testament"

        The titles "Old" and "New Testament" were used by St. Paul (2 Corinthians, 2:14). The term "testament," as applied to the two parts of the Bible, means: a covenant, agreement, pact. In the language of the Bible it denotes the agreement or pact between God and man: Man agreed to do certain things and God, in return, promised certain blessings. The Old Testament contains a record of the pact between God and Abraham and between God and Moses. The New Testament is an account of the pact between God and His creatures. Both the old and the new covenants were sealed by blood: The pact between God and Abraham was sealed by the circumcision (Genesis 17); the pact between God and the Jewish people, by the sprinkling of the people with the blood of animal victims (Exodus 24:7, 8); the pact between God and men, by Christ's own blood (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Besides denoting the Jewish and Christian religions, the terms "Old" and "New" Testaments also designate the sacred books of each.

Original Language Of The Bible

        Two books of the Old Testament - Wisdom and II Machabees - were written in Greek. The rest of the Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language. The New Testament was written in Greek, with the exception of St. Matthew's Gospel which - according to the unanimous testimony of Christian antiquity - was written in Hebrew or Aramaic.

        The books of the Bible were very likely written in the cursive style of writing. The cursive (or "running hand") style joins the letters of a word together as when we write today. In addition, the ancients had two other styles of writing: the lapidary (from the Latin word, lapis, meaning stone) and the uncial (from the Latin word uncia, meaning inch). The lapidary style was followed in inscriptions on stone monuments and used only capital letters. The uncial style was used in fine editions of books and in elaborate Bibles and employed large disconnected letters resembling the capitals. In "uncial" writing there were no spaces between the words or sentences and punctuation marks were used rarely. The word "uncial" comes from St. Jerome's description of some Bibles of his time as being written in "letters an inch high."

Divisions of the Bible

The Old Testament books are grouped in the following manner:
        1) Historical books, which are arranged not in the order in which they were written but according to the order of events in time which they narrate (Genesis to Esther);
        2) Didactic or sapiential or moral books, which are so called because they instruct us especially about heavenly wisdom and principles of morality (Job to Ecclesiasticus);
        3) The prophetical books, which contain God's message to men, and predictions concerning the future (Isaias to Malachias);
        4) A historical appendix (the Books of the Machabees).

The New Testament like the Old Testament has also a threefold division:
        1) Historical books (the Gospels and the Acts);
        2) Didactic writings (the fourteen Pauline Epistles and the seven Catholic Epistles);
        3) A prophetical book (the Apocalypse).

        The various divisions of the Biblical books are of rather recent origin. The Jews divided their sacred books into sections. The chapter division, as found in the Bible today, dates from the thirteenth century and is the work of Stephen Langton, professor at the University of Paris and later Archbishop of Canterbury. The present verse division was first introduced by the Dominican, Santes Pagnino (1528), and his system is still in use in most of the books of the Old Testament. The modern verse division in the New Testament is the work of Robert Stephen, a Paris printer of the sixteenth century. The chapter and divisions are of great value for purposes of reference but frequently break up the sequence of thought.

Biblical Autographs

        Autographs, as distinguished from copies and reprints, are writings which came from the pen of the author himself. As far as our present knowledge goes, the Biblical autographs are no longer in existence, although we can determine fairly well how they appeared. Like other books of the time they were probably papyrus rolls or scrolls. Papyrus was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, a long stemmed reed terminating in a large umbrella, which grew in abundance on the banks of the Nile River and in other Oriental countries. A sheet of papyrus was made of thin strips of the pith arranged horizontally and vertically and was usually six to fifteen inches in height and three to nine inches in width. The separate sheets were then glued together, dried in the sun, attached to one or two sticks or wooden cylinders, rolled up around them, thus making a roll or scroll.

        Papyrus was cheap but not durable. The winding and unwinding as well as moisture soon proved destructive to the scrolls. A more durable, though more expensive, material was furnished by the skins of lambs, sheep, goats and calves. As in the case of papyrus, sheets of the leather or the parchment were sewed together to form a longer strip, and strips, in turn, were jointed together to form a roll. The copies of the Old Testament books which were used in the Jewish religious services were undoubtedly written on leather. Saint Paul had parchments with him (2 Timothy 4:13) but it is not very likely that his Epistles were written on this costly material.

        The skin of a single animal furnished only a few sheets and was naturally very costly. Hence when a leather book or scroll became illegible from long usage, or when a library had too many copies of the same book, the old text was scratched or washed out and replaced by a new writing. Such copies are known as "palimpsests" (erased again). With the aid of reacting chemicals the old writing has in some instances been restored and lost texts have in this way been discovered.

The "Codex"

        The entire Bible would have been a roll of immense length. It would have been clumsy and impractical. It would have made the location of a text very difficult, especially if the desired text occurred toward the middle or end of the roll. Hence we see the emergence, in the fourth century of our era, of the "codex" or book in our sense of the term. The "codex" or book was possibly a Christian invention and was perhaps introduced for the first time in the Christian Bibles. It not only made easier the location of a particular text but put together in a single volume all the books of the Old and New Testaments.

        The oldest existing codices of the Christian Bible are all parchment copies, written in uncial letters, and dating from the fourth century. Among these oldest existing Bibles the following are the more important:

        1. The Codex Vaticanus, dating from the first half of the fourth century and preserved in the Vatican Library. It represents a form of text current in Egypt in the second century.
        2. The Codex Sinaiticus, also dating from the fourth century and representing the same form of text as the preceding. It was discovered in 1844 in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, and is now kept in the British Museum.
        3. The Codex Alexandrinus, belonging to the fifth century. It was brought from Alexandria to Constantinople and later transferred to the British Museum in London.
        4. The Codex Ephraemi, also belonging to the fifth century. It is a palimpsest: Some writings of St. Ephraem were written across the Biblical text, which had been more or less erased but is still legible.

        The naming of these Bibles is largely accidental. One is designated by its place of origin (Alexandrinus), another by its place of custody (Vaticanus), another by its place of discovery (Sinaiticus), and the last by the special character of its manuscript (Ephraemi).

Versions of the Bible

Versions of the Bible are translations of the Bible into other languages. The following are the most important versions or translations of the Bible.

        1. Septuagint. The oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament is known as the Septuagint, and was made between 300 and 130 B.C. It derives its name from the seventy or seventy two translators to whom it is attributed. According to a legend, Ptolemy II (284-247 B.C.) wished to have a copy of the Law of Moses in his famous library in Alexandria. At his request the high priest sent seventy two scholars (six from each of the twelve tribes) from Jerusalem to Alexandria to translate the Law into Greek.

        The Septuagint contains all the forty-five books of the Old Testament. It was used by the Apostles and early Christians and helped greatly in the spread of revealed truths among the Greek pagans. Many Jewish and pagan converts obtained their first knowledge of the Bible through the Septuagint.

        2. Old Latin. Since the Christians of Rome and of the Roman Empire needed a Latin Bible for the Liturgy and for private reading, it is probable that as early as the first century the Greek Bible - both the Old and New Testaments - began to be translated into Latin. The Latin Bible which was used in Western Europe prior to the acceptance of St. Jerome's text is commonly known as the "Old Latin."

        3. Vulgate. The Latin "Vulgate" ("accepted" or "commonly used") text is the work of St. Jerome (383-405). The New Testament is St. Jerome's revision of the Old Latin text made with the help of ancient Greek manuscripts. Most of the books of the Old Testament are a direct translation of the original Hebrew, while the rest are the Old Latin text. The Council of Trent made the Vulgate the official text of the Catholic Church, and our present edition was brought out by Clement VIII in 1592.

        4. The Rheims-Douay Bible. The most widely used English Catholic translation (from the Latin Vulgate) of the Bible is the Rheims-Douay or Douay Version. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth many English bishops, priests and laymen were obliged to seek refuge in France and other European countries. In 1568 a number of illustrious Oxford scholars opened an English College at Douay in France, in order to supply priests for the English missions. In 1578 the College was transferred to Rheims and later back again to Douay. Among the founders of this College were William Allen, principal of St. Mary's Hall at Oxford and later Cardinal; Gregory Martin, fellow of St. John's College of Oxford; Richard Bristow, fellow of Exeter College of Oxford, and others.

        The English translation of the Bible was made by Gregory Martin and the work was revised by Allen and Bristow. The New Testament was published at Rheims in 1582, and the Old Testament at Douay in 1609-1610. The language of the text was modernized by Bishop Challoner (1749-1752).

        5. The Westminster Version of the Sacred Scriptures - of which Fathers Lattey and Keating of the Society of Jesus are general editors - was published in England. It is a new critical Catholic translation of the New Testament made directly from the Greek. It is a private and not an official version of the Bible.

        6. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Edition of New Testament. This is not a translation but a revision of the Challoner-Rheims Version undertaken by a group of Catholic scholars under the patronage of the episcopal committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. It aims to bring the language of Challoner's version into conformity with modern English and to render accurately the divine message in the language of our own day.

7. Protestant Versions. a). The King James or Authorized Version (AV) was published in 1611 in the reign of King James I. The Authorized Version is not a new translation but a revision of an English Bible known as the Bishop's Bible and published in 1568. The translation is often colored by anti-Catholic prejudice which in certain instances leads to outright falsifications of the text. The purity of its English, however, has made it the Bible of English Protestantism. b). The Revised Version (RV) (1881-1885) is a modern critical revision undertaken - at the instance of the British Parliament - by a group of English and American Protestant scholars. The committee departed in at least thirty-six thousand instances from the text of 1611. c). In 1901 the American group of the same committee brought out its own text of the Revised Version and this is known as the American Standard Version. (SV).

Discussion Aids

Set I

1. What is the meaning of the word "Bible"?
2. Was the Bible originally one book? When did the "volume" style come into vogue?
3. What is the meaning of the word "Testament"? How were the Old and the New Testaments sealed?
4. What was the original language of the Old Testament? Of the New Testament?
5. What were the three styles of writing in antiquity?
6. How were the books of the Old Testament grouped? of the New Testament?
7. When was the Bible divided into chapters? into verses? by whom?
8. What is a Biblical autograph? What materials were used in the composition of the original books of the bible?
9. Name the four oldest Bibles.
10. What is a version?
11. Describe the origin of the Septuagint version; of the Old Latin version; of the Vulgate.
12. Describe the origin of the Rheims-Douay Version; of the Confraternity edition of the New Testament.
13. Name three Protestant versions.

Set II
Discuss thoroughly each sentence in the following quotation:

"The word of God is an inexhaustible treasury of heavenly science. It is the only oracle that discloses to us the origin and sublime destiny of man, and the means of attaining it. It is the key that interprets his relations to his Creator. It is the foundation of our Christian faith and of our glorious heritage. Its moral code is the standard of our lives. If our Christian civilization is so manifestly superior to all actual and pre-existing social systems, it is indebted for its supremacy to the ethical teachings of Holy Writ" (James Cardinal Gibbons, "The Ambassador of Christ," p. 227).


Discuss and apply to your own life the following statements of the Fathers of the Church:

       Saint Jerome: "To be ignorant of the Scriptures, is to be ignorant of Christ."

       Saint Augustine: "Letters have reached us from that city apart from which we are wandering; these letters are the Scriptures which exhort us to live well."

       "He who receives negligently the Word of God is not less guilty than he who, through his own fault, would permit the Sacred Host to fall on the ground."

       The Imitation: "I perceive two things to be particularly necessary for me in this life, without which it would be insupportable to me. Whilst I am detained in the prison of this body, I acknowledge myself to stand in need of two things, namely, food and light. Unto me, then, thus weak and helpless, Thou hast given Thy Sacred Body for the refreshment both of my soul and body, and Thy Word Thou hast set as a lamp to my feet."

Religious Practices

1. "The most highly valued treasure of every family library, and the most frequently and lovingly made use of, should be the Holy Scripture. We trust that no family can be found amongst us without a correct version of the Holy Scriptures" (Pastoral Letter of the Third Council of Baltimore, 1844).

2. In 1898 Leo XIII granted "to all the faithful of both sexes who piously and devoutly read for a quarter of an hour each day the Holy Gospel, the edition whereof is recognized and approved by legitimate authority, an indulgence of 300 days for each reading thereof."

3. "The more we read the Gospel, the stronger our faith becomes" (Pius X). "Our one desire for all the Church's children is that, being saturated with the Bible, they may arrive at the all- surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Benedict XV).