EARLY HISTORY OF THE BIBLE

The original writings from the Apostles themselves (the autographs) no longer exist.

This is due partly to the perishable material (papyrus) used by the writers, and partly to the fact that the Roman emperors decreed the destruction of the sacred books of the Christians (Edict of Diocletian, A.D. 303).

Before translating the Bible into Latin, St. Jerome had already translated into more common languages enough books to fill a library. (Saint Jerome, Maisie Ward, Sheed & Ward; A Companion to Scripture Studies, Steinmuller.)

In the year 383, he revised the Latin New Testament text in accordance with some Greek manuscripts. Between the years 390 and 406 he translated the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew, and this completed work is known today as the "Old Latin Vulgate". The work had been requested by Pope Damasus, and Copies of St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate appeared uncorrupted as late as the 11th century, with some revisions by St. Peter Damian and Lanfranc. (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Place of the Bible in the Church", C.U.A.)

Pope Benedict XV wrote about St. Jerome's translation in his 1920 encyclical, Spiritus Paraclitus, "Nor was Jerome content merely to gather up this or that teacher's words; he gathered from all quarters whatever might prove of use to him in this task. From the outset he had accumulated the best possible copies of the Bible and the best commentators on it," . . . "he corrected the Latin version of the Old Testament by the Greek; he translated afresh nearly all the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin; . . . he discussed Biblical questions with the brethren who came to him, and answered letters on Biblical questions which poured in upon him from all sides; besides all this, he was constantly refuting men who assailed Catholic doctrine and unity."

The first person known with certainty to apply the term canon to the Sacred Scriptures was St. Athanasius, about 350A.D., although his private estimate of the number of canonical books differed from the books he quoted in his writings. Like him, a few other early fathers doubted some of the deutero-canonical books, but would cite them. (A Companion to Scripture Studies. Steinmueller.)

The Council of Carthage (397) was the first Council to publish a list of all the inspired books of the Bible. The Council of Florence repeated the canon of the Bible, and it was restated at the Council of Trent. (No action of the Church causes a book to be inspired. The Church exercises its infallible judgment to certify post factum that a particular book was inspired when it was written. The fact that God is its Author makes a book to be inspired. The Holy Spirit prevents the Church from erring in judging which books are inspired and included in the Bible.)

Versions of the whole or parts of the Bible in the language of the common people first appeared in Germany in the eighth century, in France and Hungary in the twelfth, and Italy, Spain, Holland, Poland and Bohemia in the thirteenth century. (Catholic Encyclopedia.)

In the 1500's in Italy, there were more than 40 vernacular editions of the Bible. France had 18 vernacular editions before 1547, and Spain began publishing editions in 1478, with full approval of the Spanish Inquisition.

In all, 198 editions of the Bible were in the language of the laity, 626 editions all together, and all before the first Protestant version, and all having the full approval of the Church. (Where We Got the Bible, TAN Publishers)

The area known as England was invaded and settled by Germanic tribes called "Saxons" who aligned with tribes from the area of Denmark called "Angles". In the 700's, (St. Bede the Venerable), the area was speaking a Germanic dialect. In the Middle Ages, between 1066-1377, there were different dialects depending on where you went, between the different tribes. The Normans had invaded the area, There was no written vocabulary, so Latin and Greek were most commonly used by the literate.

After 1300, the English population was still much smaller than others like the Italians or Spanish, and it was still unintelligible in a written form. After the 1500's, England became more important politically.

For centuries before the invention of printing, the only way to duplicate the text of the Bible was to copy it by hand. Copyists could have made mistakes, but, they took more care with Scripture than with any other book. Errors, while they are possible and certainly have occurred in some instances, can not be too easily admitted or accepted as an excuse to disregard these copies. Moreover, God in His Providence has faithfully protected His Bible from any serious corruption.

Even a perfectly written Bible would still need an authoritative explanation of various passages.

Chapter and verse divisions are not found in our oldest manuscripts of the Bible, and there is evidence that the early Hebrew writers did not even separate the words of the text, following a Hebrew tradition that Moses wrote the Law as one continuous word. The division into chapters was a gradual process that began in the Middle Ages. The divisions now used were introduced by Stephen Langton (d. 1228), later archbishop of Canterbury, and are found in the Biblia Parisiensis, used at the University of Paris as early as the 13th century. (English Versions of the Bible, Rev. Hugh Pope, O.P.)

The division of Bible chapters into numbered smaller sections was introduced to facilitate scholarly reference to the individual passages. In 1528, Santes Pagnino, a Dominican, published a Bible where each chapter was divided into verses usually consisting of single sentences.

Robert Estienne, a French printer, less than thirty years later, introduced the figures that divide or "chop up" verses of the Bible. His verse divisions became standard because he also printed a Concordance based on these editions. (New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible.) Although at times it divides a passage, the procedure has been sanctified by the Church.

In 1452, the Vulgate was the first book to be printed on the first mechanical press, invented by a Catholic - Johann Gutenberg; that particular edition is commonly known as the Gutenberg Bible. Again, the text was in Latin. (The Gutenberg Bible, Martin Davies.)

By the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's, there were: 104 Latin editions of the Bible - 9 before Martin Luther's birth, and 27 before his edition. (Where We Got the Bible) About this time though, some Latin editions were defective, owing to the creativity or errors of the various publishers, so the Council of Trent intervened, choosing the "Clementine" edition as the official Latin version, authentic and approved for use in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions. (Canons & Decrees of the Council of Trent, TAN Publishers, page 10.) Many translators during the 1500-1900's chose the Latin Vulgate over the Greek because it was difficult to find a good Greek translation.

In the late 1500's, there were about 120 Greek versions with 30,000 different readings. For example, one rendition had Isaiah 7:14 using neanis (young woman) instead of parthenos [virgin]. ("Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanual". The gospel of Matthew 1:23 makes reference to this passage, "Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanual, which being interpreted is, God with us.").

The Latin language gradually changed. The Latin used in the Vulgate is from around 400A.D. Gradually, Latin evolved into French, Italian and Spanish. In the treaty of Verdun, (843 A.D.) the text shows the shift of vocabulary - some Latin and some Middle French. The last recorded usage of Latin being preached to the common people was around the year 800, in Italy.

However, latin remained the universal written language in Europe for many centuries. Up to the 1400's, it was the only language to be generally used. As late as the 1660's Isaac Newton, requiring a large audience for his theories, would write his Principlicae Mathematica in Latin for publication, not English (which was still obscure as a written language at the time).

From 1578 to 1593 the English College of Douay was temporarily housed at Rheims. It was during this period that the Vulgate was translated into the new language called English. In 1582, Queen Elizabeth ordered searchers to confiscate every copy of the New Testament newly translated into English by the College of Rheims. Priests were imprisoned for having it, and the sentence of "torture by rack" was given to those who circulated it. The publication of the Old Testament was delayed until the Douay College had returned to England. In 1609, the College of Douay published the Old Testament English translation.

(Although some Catholic critics scoff at the "archaic English" used in this edition put out by these colleges, the preface of The Protestant Revised Version, or King James version (1611) credits the deliberately literal translation, and the coinage of Latin-English words for theological terms.)

Between 1609 and 1749, there were more than 23 different Catholic editions of the Bible produced, about half of which were New Testament editions, the remaining being editions of the Penitential Psalms.

Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781), who was previously the vice-president of the Douay College, began in 1749 the first of several revisions of the Bible from the "Old English" style into the newer English then in use. It is his work that, for the first time provided English-speaking Catholics with a portable, inexpensive and readable version of the Bible, in spite of a few inevitable defects. In all, he was responsible for 5 different editions of the New Testament, and 2 editions of the Old.

The other portable editions of the 8th through 16th century were parts or sections of the Bible, like the Penitentail Psalms, and the Pauper's Bible.

Probably the next most popular Catholic Bible was the "Haydock" revision of the Challoner-Rheims Bible, which actually came about from the suggestion of Thomas Haydock, a printer and schoolmaster. His brother, Rev. George Leo Haydock, published the first edition during the years of 1811-1814, and printings continued well into 1859, after his death. Unique at the time of the Haydock editions was the inclusion of historical and chronological indexes, lists of miracles and parables, some of St. Jerome's letters added to the Addenda, and massive amounts of notes from the fathers and doctors of the Church. It was the first publication of its kind, and editions were immediately successful with several reprints.

In 1790, the first Catholic Bible was printed in the United States, (a lot of printing for America had been done in Belgium) under the encouragement of its' first bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore. It was based on Challoner's second edition of the Bible printed in 1764. In 1805, another version was published in the U.S., based on the Dublin "fifth edition" of Challoner, having been slightly revised under Archbishop John Troy of Dublin. (English Versions of the Bible.)

Various versions and editions of the Douay-Rheims Bible were printed in the United States up until 1947.

As a sidenote, St. Thomas More, in his Dialogue Concerning Tyndale, wrote against Tyndale's New Testament. St. Thomas noted "there were wrong and falsely translated above a thousand texts", and took as examples three words; "priest", "Church" and "charity", which Tyndale changed to "senior", "congregation" and "love". Possibly minor changes as far as the language is concerned, but these were considered fundamental for the doctrinal positions involved. In other verses Tyndale removed "grace", "confession", "penance", and "contrition", changing the biblical text to correspond with his abolition of the Mass. Tyndale is also noted as the first to use the word "Jehovah" as a name for God.

Back