“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 NIV
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
Reading the Bible is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of one’s spiritual walk in the Christian faith, as it opens one’s heart, mind and soul to the living and powerful word of God that has been preserved for generations since time immemorial. The Bible does not merely serve as a moral compass in a Christian’s walk of faith; it is in fact life’s ultimate manual that serves to navigate a Christian through the ups and downs of life, regardless of time, place or circumstance. It forms the very core of the foundation of one’s faith in Jesus and the gospel, and it is through it that one acquires the necessary building blocks to build a strong spiritual foundation that influences all spheres of one’s life.
The Bible is indisputably the most translated book in the world, what with the whole Bible existing in at least 500 languages and at least some parts of the Bible existing in almost 3,000 languages of the world (as of 2015). In case you don’t already know, the original languages of the Bible are Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament, and Greek for the New Testament. And just for the benefit of those of you who don’t know, almost the entire Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was historically the native and liturgical language of the Israelites, but small portions of the Bible, particularly in the books of Ezra and Daniel, were written in Aramaic, which was the lingua franca of many parts of the ancient world in the Middle East and was likely the everyday language that Jesus Himself spoke the most. The New Testament, however, was written in Greek because that was the lingua franca in many parts of the Roman Empire from 50 to 100 AD, the years when the books of the New Testament were written.
Bible translations into the English language have existed since as early as the 7th century AD, with large portions of both the Old and New Testaments being translated into Old English by various Christian scholars and monks. Nonetheless, perhaps the most famous English translation of the Bible in medieval times is none other than the Wycliffe Bible, which was translated around 1382 either directly or under the direction of John Wycliffe (1331 – 1384), a famous English theologian and preacher. Since then, numerous versions of the Bible in English have been published up to modern times, and it is true that choosing the best Bible to read can sometimes be a headache for the average Christian.
Beginning of the Gospel of John in a 14th century copy of the Wycliffe Bible
In this two-part article, I’ll be giving you an overview of some of the most commonly used translations of the Bible in English today. In the first part of this article, I’ll first attempt to cover a brief history and overview of the various source texts used in most modern Bible translations, while in the second part of this article I’ll be giving you brief descriptions of about 10 of the most popular versions of the Bible in English today.
Beginning of the Gospel of John from the Clementine Vulgate
Before I proceed further, it would be best for us to first understand one of the most renowned versions of the Bible in Christian history known as the Latin Vulgate. Indeed, no discourse on the history of the Church is complete without at least making a brief mention of this highly authoritative version of the Bible that left such a deep impression for many centuries since its inception.
From around the 2nd century AD onwards, churches throughout the Roman Empire started moving away from Greek and embracing Latin as the new lingua franca. The first few Latin-speaking churches of that time were in North Africa, and as the years passed the use of Latin slowly replaced Greek in other parts of the Roman Empire as well. Due to this, it soon became imperative that the books of the Bible be translated into Latin as well, and to this end, numerous translations were produced by both the skilled and the unskilled. Because churches were so spread out throughout the vast territories of the Roman Empire, the number of Latin translations of the various books of the Bible soon became countless, and serious variations started creeping into the different translations from the different geographical regions that were at times even done by anonymous individuals with zero religious training. The situation became so bad that it was said that there were almost as many types of texts as there were manuscripts, and a standardized version became desirable.
In 382, Pope Damasus I (305 – 384) commissioned Jerome (347 – 420), a Latin priest and one of the Early Church Fathers, with the monumental task of revising the vast collection of Biblical texts in Latin and producing a standardized Latin translation of the Bible. Jerome thus started by revising the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, using all the Greek manuscripts that were available to him. At about the same time, he also revised the Old Testament using the Septuagint (which will be covered later in this article). Nonetheless, in the year 390, Jerome embarked on a much larger project, that was to translate the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew texts. His primary motivation for doing so was the hostility of the Jews who continued to belittle Christians for lacking a genuine text of the Old Testament on which the latter could put forward their theological arguments.
Artist's impression of Jerome, from a painting entitled Saint Jerome in His Study by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 - 1494)
The collection of all of Jerome’s works, including possible revisions of the other books of the New Testament, formed the Latin Vulgate or simply the Vulgate (Vulgata) in Latin. ‘Vulgate’ refers to the ‘common (or vulgar) language’ of the people, and not the connotations we would attach to the word ‘vulgar’ in our modern sense. For the centuries after the production of the complete Vulgate in 405, this version of the Latin Bible became among the most authoritative, if not the most itself, in the Catholic Church, and it was the standard version studied by the clergy and preached in the churches throughout Western Europe. The Council of Trent, a major ecumenical council of the Catholic Church held between 1545 to 1563 in response to the Protestant Reformation, issued a decree that sealed the position of the Vulgate as the officially sanctioned version of the Bible in the Catholic Church.
Old Testament source texts
As mentioned earlier, the original texts of the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, although Aramaic was also used in certain parts of the Bible either as words, phrases or long portions of texts, most notably in Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26, and Daniel 2:4-7:28. Most modern translations of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible are based on any one or a combination of the sources discussed below.
For those of you who may not be aware, the books of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament are equivalent to the books of the Tanakh, the Jewish Scripture or the holy book of Judaism. For the purpose of discussion below, whenever ‘Jewish Scripture’ is mentioned, this would equally refer to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.
Transmission chart of the Old Testament. Red boxes indicate copies that are in Hebrew; blue boxes indicate copies that are in languages other than Hebrew
Surviving manuscript of the Septuagint
Although the Septuagint was regarded with much reverence and accorded considerable authority in the days of Jesus and the Early Church, its origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery and legends. The name ‘Septuagint’ itself is derived from the Latin word septuaginta, which means ‘seventy,’ and this is linked to the popular tradition regarding its origin that is now considered by many to be legendary.
Tradition has it that when the Hellenistic Egyptian king Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309 – 246 BC) established a library in Alexandria, he was persuaded by his royal librarian Demetrius of Phalerum (c.350 – c.280 BC) to secure a Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture for his library’s collection. The king then sent a delegation to Eleazar, the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, requesting 72 (or 70) interpreters, 6 from each Jewish tribe, to be sent to Alexandria along with a copy of the Jewish Scripture. The high priest obliged, and the 72 interpreters were sent along with a copy of the Jewish Scripture written in letters of gold on rolls of skin. After much merrymaking upon their arrival, the interpreters were brought to the remote island of Pharos to complete the translation works, with all necessary supplies provided for. The result of their work was the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture/Old Testament from Hebrew.
In spite of this tradition that was widely held in the past, many modern scholars believe that this was probably a fanciful confabulation to give credence to the validity of the Septuagint as scripture. What is certain is that the Septuagint was a product born out of the necessity for a Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture in Hebrew. With the Greek conquest under Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC), Greek culture slowly spread in influence throughout Europe, North Africa and Western Asia; a process known as Hellenization. Among the Jews in the Greek Empire from the 3rd century BC onwards, Hellenization brought about a gradual decline in the usage of Hebrew in favour of Greek as the new lingua franca. This also meant that there was an increasing demand for the Jewish Scriptures to be translated into Greek, as many Jews themselves lost the ability to speak Hebrew with the passage of time. Sometime around the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, efforts were made by the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria to produce such a Greek translation, and out of that the Septuagint was born. Its use soon spread to many other parts of the Greek/Roman Empire, particularly among Hellenized Jewish communities.
During the time of Jesus and the days of the Early Church in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Septuagint was perhaps the most widely used version of the Jewish Scripture. Many writers of the New Testament books and the Early Church Fathers quoted from the Septuagint in their works, and because of this it soon became the standard version of the Old Testament used in the early churches. The influence of the Septuagint in the early churches was so strong that it formed the basis for translations of the Old Testament into other languages of that era, such as Old Latin, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Georgian and others.
In producing modern Bible translations, opinions regarding the authenticity and authority of the Septuagint differ. Proponents of the Septuagint argue that the authors of the New Testament books took many of their quotations of the Old Testament from the Septuagint, thus lending credence to the spiritual authority attached to it. They also argue that the Old Testament texts in Hebrew that have been passed down to this modern era have been corrupted by Jewish scholars over the centuries (see ‘Masoretic Text’ below), making the Septuagint the best and most unbiased available representation of the earliest versions of the Jewish Scripture that existed before the birth of Jesus. Opponents of the Septuagint, on the other hand, assert that the Septuagint itself is a translated text, with Greek and Hebrew being two languages that differ in many aspects including vocabulary use and theological terminologies, not to mention that translations made from the Septuagint are themselves ‘translations of a translation.’ As such, they argue that the Septuagint may not be too accurate in representing the original meanings and intents found in the Hebrew texts.
Excerpt from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Aleppo Codex
The Masoretic Text refers to the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh, the holy book of Judaism. Its name is derived from the Hebrew word masorah, which generally means ‘tradition’ and refers to the textual traditions of the Masoretes, a community of Jewish rabbis and scholars from the 7th to 11th centuries AD who dedicated their lives to compiling and copying the Jewish Scripture with great meticulousness in order to preserve it. They were primarily based in Tiberias and Jerusalem in Israel, as well as in several cities in what is presently Iraq.
Efforts to preserve the Hebrew Jewish Scripture in its most original form can be traced back to the 5th century BC, after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. However, these efforts were occasionally hampered by circumstances, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD that resulted in the loss of many sacred scrolls. Another major setback in the preservation of the Jewish Scriptures over the centuries was the absence of vowels in written Hebrew in ancient times. Hebrew texts were written with only consonants, which meant that when reading those texts, the vowels had to be supplied based on oral tradition handed down through the generations. A simple illustration in English would be this: say for example you have a text that reads ‘SLP.’ How would you know if this word was read ‘SLAP,’ ‘SLIP’ or ‘SLOP’? You’ll have to rely on oral tradition that has been passed down to you to know its actual reading, which means that this sort of writing system gives lots of room for variations in reading and consequently meaning.
What the Masoretes did during the 6th to 10th centuries was basically to gather as many copies of the Jewish Scripture in Hebrew as they could, study them in detail, compile them together into a standardized text, and proliferate them via meticulous copying done by the most well-trained of scribes. Another major contribution by them was the introduction of vowel points, a reading system that indicates the vowel readings for any given word in Hebrew. This was to overcome the problems associated with the lack of vowels as described above.
The Masoretes comprised several schools, and each school adhered to their own set of oral and textual traditions in the readings of the Jewish Scripture. As they developed the vowel points, they soon added these vowel readings into their copies of the Scripture according to the traditions that they adhered to. Each school possessed their own standard codex from which they made their copies, and it was these codices and their copies that formed the basis for what we know today as the Masoretic Text. Although different versions of the Masoretic Text were produced by the different schools, the variations between them were virtually minimal, as each school frequently examined their works against those of the other schools. Two of the most prominent versions of the Masoretic Text that have survived until today are the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, both dating back to around the 10th century and originating from the Ben Asher school.
The versions of the Masoretic Text that form the main textual basis for most modern translations of the Old Testament date back to the 16th century. The first of these was a version published by Daniel Bomberg (d. 1549) in 1525 in Venice, known as the Rabbinical Bible or Mikraot Gedolot in Hebrew. This version was compiled and written based on manuscripts gathered by a Masoretic scholar named Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah (c.1470 – c.1538), who carefully studied the various manuscripts he had at hand and reconstructed them into a single text. The Rabbinical Bible became an authoritative Masoretic Text during that era, and various revised editions have been published until today.
Excerpt from the Book of Leviticus in a version of the Mikraot Gedolot published in 1860 in Warsaw
Another version of the Masoretic Text that has contributed much to many modern Bible translations are the Biblia Hebraica and its subsequent revised edition Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Published by the German Bible Society, the first two editions of the Biblia Hebraica were published in 1906 and 1912 respectively, and were directly based on the second edition of the Rabbinical Bible. The third edition and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, however, were published more recently, and were based directly on the Leningrad Codex mentioned earlier.
The use of the Masoretic Text in modern translations of the Old Testament is not without controversy. Proponents of the Masoretic Text assert that it is the best preserved text of the Old Testament that has been passed down in its original language, and that the Masoretes who were responsible for compiling the Masoretic Text were renowned for their extreme meticulousness in collating and copying the texts, thus ensuring minimal variations as they were passed down over the centuries. On the other hand, opponents argue that the Masoretic Text, being a work of Jewish scholars, have been purposely corrupted in parts over the centuries. This argument is based on the fact that after the 2nd century AD, when the Septuagint became widely adopted by Christians in the Early Church as their Old Testament, they frequently debated with the Jews regarding Jesus and His Messianic nature by quoting from the Old Testament prophecies based on the Septuagint. Because of this, the Jews slowly shifted away from the Septuagint in favour of the original Hebrew versions of the Jewish Scripture, which were not as widely used by Christians. Opponents of the Masoretic Text believe that Jewish scholars including the Masoretes have corrupted certain wordings and verses in the Masoretic Text over the centuries so as to alter certain parts that may make allusions to the life and teachings of Jesus.
Dead Sea Scrolls
Manuscript of a portion of the Book of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls
Any serious student of the Bible today who is worth his salt would definitely have at least heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 in eleven caves located in Qumran, West Bank near the Dead Sea. Its relatively recent discovery has revolutionized how most modern Bibles are translated and edited.
The scrolls were first discovered in 1946 by a group of Bedouin shepherds, who found them stored in clay jars and subsequently sold them to an antiquities dealer. In the years that followed, the scrolls eventually reached the hands of Bible scholars and archaeologists, prompting a large-scale search for the caves where they were originally discovered. When the caves were finally re-discovered by archaeologists in 1949, major excavation projects were carried out, which resulted in a priceless yield of thousands of manuscripts, both intact and fragmented.
View of the Dead Sea from a cave in Qumran
The Dead Sea Scrolls have proven to be an invaluable source for verifying the accuracy of modern Bible translations. Prior to their discovery, the only forms in which the books of the Old Testament have been passed down to modern times are the Septuagint, the Masoretic Text and the Latin Vulgate, besides several other less known ancient sources that will be briefly covered later. Archaeological studies have shown that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written between the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD, and the large majority of them were written in Hebrew, while the rest were in Aramaic and Greek. This means that the Dead Sea Scrolls are by far one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament in Hebrew, even older than the oldest of the Masoretic Text that has survived until today. Written mostly on parchment or papyrus, at least a portion of every Old Testament book is represented among the Scrolls except the Book of Esther.
Nevertheless, little is known about who the exact authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls are. Various theories have been put forward by different scholars, but what is generally agreed upon is that they were written between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, a turbulent era in Jewish history when different sects of Judaism existed in Israel, each vying for dominance and struggling against foreign invasions by the Greeks and Romans.
Excerpt from the Book of Exodus in the Syriac Peshitta
Many Eastern Orthodox churches throughout the Middle East and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) follow the Syriac tradition of Christianity, in which one of its main defining features is its use of Syriac as a liturgical language. Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic, a language that was once the dominant lingua franca and literary language for many centuries in the first millennium AD. The role of Syriac as a liturgical language was not only associated with its status as a lingua franca and a prominent literary language in many parts of the Middle East in the first millennium AD; it was also a language that was closely related to the Aramaic that Jesus Himself spoke during His earthly ministry.
The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible used by Eastern Orthodox churches belonging to the Syriac tradition. The term ‘Peshitta’ itself literally means ‘common,’ ‘straight’ or ‘simple’ in the Syriac language. The history behind the translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into Syriac is shrouded in much mystery even until now. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that the Old Testament in the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from the Hebrew version sometime in the 2nd century AD, while the New Testament was translated into Syriac from Greek at around the same time as well. Exactly who did these translations or where these translations were completed remain unknown.
What is known, however, is that the Peshitta developed separately from the Latin Vulgate, and is seen by some to be the Syriac counterpart of the Latin Vulgate in the Eastern Orthodox churches. By the 5th century AD, the Peshitta was widely circulated and accepted by the various denominations of the Eastern churches that follow the Syriac tradition, and various copies of it throughout history have survived until today.
A Samaritan High Priest holding the Samaritan Pentateuch
The Samaritans were a group of people living in the region of Samaria, a region situated north of the region of Judea where Jesus was born, preached and was crucified. The history of the Samaritans can be traced back to the time of the Assyrian captivity of the Israelites, when ten tribes of Israel were taken captive into Assyria in the 8th century BC. During the Assyrian captivity, the rulers of Assyria resettled various other tribes in the region of Samaria, which resulted in intermingling and intermarriages between these foreign tribes and the remaining Israelite population in Samaria. The result of such intermarriages brought about the Samaritan population that existed up to Jesus’ time and beyond. Over time, the Samaritan population adopted a mixture of Judaism and idolatrous religions, which resulted in them being contemptibly labeled ‘half-breeds’ by the Jews even during Jesus’ time.
The Samaritans adhere to Samaritanism, a religion that is closely related to mainstream Judaism yet differs in several significant ways from it. These differences stem from the fact that Samaritanism developed separately from mainstream Judaism after the Assyrian captivity. One of the biggest differences relates to their scripture. Samaritanism recognizes only their version of the five books of Moses (i.e. the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), written in the Samaritan script, as their entire biblical canon, and this is known as the Samaritan Pentateuch.
The Samaritan Pentateuch is generally believed to have been directly inherited by the Samaritans from the ten tribes of Israel that were taken captive into Assyria. Similar to the Septuagint, its value in reconstructing the original texts of the five books of Moses lies in the fact that its origins can be traced back to many centuries even before the compilation of the Masoretic Text. Nonetheless, the Samaritan Pentateuch is not without some significant variations that came about as a result of religious hostilities between the Samaritans and mainstream Jews throughout history.
An 11th century Hebrew Bible with the Targum discovered in Iraq
The Targums are paraphrases and explanations of the Jewish Scripture given by rabbis, which were mostly written in Aramaic. After the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the 5th century BC, the usage of Hebrew among the Jews was facing a gradual decline, so much so that many among the Jewish Diaspora slowly lost their fluency in the language. With Aramaic gradually taking over as the new lingua franca in the Jewish Diaspora, there was a need for the rabbis (Jewish religious teachers) to provide paraphrases, translations and explanations in Aramaic each time after the Hebrew scripture was read. While these Aramaic paraphrases and explanations were initially produced and disseminated orally, they eventually took on a written form. It is unclear when exactly the practice of providing Targums began, but by the 1st century BC right up to the first century AD, it became a fairly common practice.
The two most important Targums recognized in Jewish history are the Targum Onkelos and the Targum Jonathan (Targum Yonatan), although several other Targums also exist. With the decline of Aramaic in the first millennium AD and especially after the Islamic conquest of the Middle East from the 7th century AD onwards, the Aramaic Targums were gradually abandoned, and are hardly used by the Jews of today for liturgical purposes. Just like the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint, the value of the Targums in determining the most original readings of verses in the Old Testament lies in the fact that it predates the Masoretic Text by several centuries, although the Targums are often given a lower priority due to the fact that they were never complete translations of the Jewish Scripture in Aramaic in the first place.
New Testament source texts
The books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, which was the lingua franca in many parts of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Broadly speaking, most translations of the Bible since the 16th century utilize source texts of the New Testament that fall under either one of two categories: the Majority Text and the Minority Text.
Excerpt from the Gospel of Luke in the Codex Vaticanus
Although the Bible is today one of the most widely read books in the world, it is a widely attested fact that none of the original manuscripts of any of the books of the Bible have survived until today. Even the oldest manuscripts available today are copies of copies of copies of copies of the originals. Analyses of all the New Testament manuscripts that have survived until today have shown that there exist numerous variations between them in terms of vocabulary, word order and even the inclusion or exclusion of certain verses. As such, determining which surviving manuscripts reflect the original texts most closely has become a scholarly challenge in reconstructing the New Testament.
The Majority Text is one of the two main methods employed in determining the readings of the New Testament texts that were most likely present in the originals. The simplest way of illustrating this method is that for any given variation in the text, each Greek manuscript is given a single vote, and the reading that has the most votes is considered the most original reading. For example, if 346 manuscripts were to read “he said” and 1053 manuscripts were to read “they said” for a given verse, the Majority Text would go with “they said” as the most likely original reading. In other words, the Majority Text is a method that considers the reading that occurs in a majority of existing Greek manuscripts to be the most original reading. It is also often known as the Byzantine text-type due to the fact that most of the Greek manuscripts that form the basis of the Majority Text came from Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, a region that was in the past under the ecclesiastical influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church based in Byzantine. Most of these manuscripts date back to the 5th-16th centuries AD.
Although there exist several other published versions of the Majority Text, I’d like to draw special attention to something called the Textus Receptus (Latin for ‘Received Text’), due to its significance in modern English Bible translations. While the Textus Receptus still bears hundreds of variations compared to published versions of the Majority Text, it is often considered as a type of Majority Text in its own right because of its close textual similarities with many of the Greek manuscripts that form the basis of the Majority Text.
The Textus Receptus refers to a series of printed Greek texts of the New Testament that were published during the Protestant Reformation from the 1500s to the 1600s. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, most churches in Western Europe recognized the Latin Vulgate as the sole approved version of the Bible. With the resurgence in interest towards the Greek language in the 1400s, the Latin Vulgate was subjected to critical comparison with the Greek manuscripts, and numerous errors in translation were found. As a result, many among the clergy and scholarly circles advocated for the publication of the New Testament in its original language, and the idea of a Greek New Testament was conceived.
The first edition of the Textus Receptus was compiled and published in 1516 by Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536), a Dutch Catholic theologian. Erasmus was able to acquire around six Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which were mostly dated in the 12th century and were Byzantine in origin. Based on these manuscripts, he hastily compiled a Greek text of the New Testament and rushed it off for publication, supposedly in order to beat to press another Greek New Testament that was being compiled in Spain. The result was a best-selling, albeit error-ridden Greek New Testament that would be known to posterity as the Textus Receptus.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466 - 1536)
Erasmus heavily edited his first edition, subsequently publishing a much refined second edition in 1519. As the years passed, Erasmus was able to acquire more Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which he took into consideration in his later editions. The third, fourth and final editions of his Textus Receptus were published in 1522, 1527 and 1535 respectively, but work on reviewing and editing the Textus Receptus continued well after his death, up to the early 1600s. The Textus Receptus became the textual basis for many influential translations of the Bible into European languages, and even up to the late 1800s its authority as the ‘original Greek manuscript’ of the New Testament remained undisputed.
Excerpt from the Book of Revelation compiled by Erasmus
Most modern versions of the English Bible (with the notable exception of the King James Version and the New King James Version) no longer use the Textus Receptus as their textual basis, and neither do they prefer other versions of the Majority Text. This is largely because the Majority Text does not take into account two major factors in determining the most original readings in the New Testament texts: the age and place of origin of the manuscripts. Scholars assert that for any given variation in the text, the reading found in the majority of Greek manuscripts does not necessarily mean that it was also in the original, as it is possible that a variant reading could have simply ended up being proliferated much more than the original over the course of history. Most scholars believe that older manuscripts are more likely to represent what was in the originals, and that both Greek and translated manuscripts from other locations (besides Byzantine) should also be taken into consideration.
Minority Text / Critical Text / Eclectic Text
Excerpt from the Acts of the Apostles in the Codex Alexandrinus
The Minority Text makes up for the shortcomings of the Majority Text, and is today the more preferred method for most modern translations of the Bible in English. Also known by other terminologies such as Critical Text, Eclectic Text, Neutral Text or Alexandrian text-type, the Minority Text determines the most original readings on the basis of internal evidences (e.g. grammatical and contextual conformity of readings, readings that are more likely to account for the origin of other variant readings) and external evidences (e.g. manuscript dates and places of origin, number of times a particular reading occurs among the different manuscripts). In general, most of the manuscripts that form the basis of the Minority Text originate from within and around Alexandria, Egypt, and can be dated back to the 2nd-4th centuries AD.
As mentioned earlier, the Textus Receptus’ status as the de facto ‘original Greek manuscript’ remained unquestioned up to the late 1800s. It was the scholarly work of two theologians, Brooke Westcott (1825 – 1901) and Fenton Hort (1828 – 1892), that finally broke this tradition and subsequently introduced the science of textual criticism in Bible scholarship. Westcott and Hort did extensive research and worked together for 28 years before publishing The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881. This was a Greek version of the New Testament that was soon recognized as one of the first versions of the New Testament to have applied the Minority Text method. Although not without its own shortcomings, it became the precursor to more extensive research in the area of biblical textual criticism, and was the preferred source text for subsequent English Bible translations for nearly two generations.
In 1898, a German Bible scholar by the name of Eberhard Nestle (1851 – 1913) published another influential version of the New Testament in Greek known as the Novum Testamentum Graece, taking into account previous works by Westcott and Hort as well as several other scholars. This version soon rose in prominence among Bible scholarly circles worldwide. Surpassing even Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in the Original Greek, Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece was soon dubbed the ‘New Textus Receptus.’
Eberhard Nestle (1851 - 1913)
With the discovery of newer manuscripts over the following years, Eberhard continued revising his work, producing up to 11 more editions before he died. His son, Erwin Nestle (1883 – 1972), took over his father’s work, starting from the 13th edition onwards which was published in 1927. Another major milestone in the development of Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece was when prominent German Bible scholar, Kurt Aland (1915 – 1994), became the associate editor of Nestle’s work from the 21st edition onwards, which was published in 1952. Aland also submitted his work to the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, of which he was also a member, and this became the basis for their 3rd edition onwards, published in 1975.
Kurt Aland (1915 - 1994)
Today, the Novum Testamentum Graece is synonymous with two Greek versions of the New Testament: the Nestle-Aland editions and the United Bible Societies (UBS) editions, published by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research at the University of Münster, Westphalia, Germany. Both versions utilize the same base text, with the main difference being that the Nestle-Aland editions are aimed at translators while the UBS editions are aimed at textual critics and scholars. Most modern versions of the English Bible, and a substantial number of modern translations of the Bible in other languages as well, utilize the Novum Testamentum Graece as their primary source text for the New Testament.
Although it is true that none of the original manuscripts of any books of the Bible have survived until today, and that there exists numerous textual variations between the Majority Text and the Minority Text, it should be noted that no major area of doctrine is affected by any of these variations. These variations merely involve minor grammatical differences, usages of different words and phrases to express the same meaning, and the occasional insertions of what is believed to be scribal explanations for certain cultural points. With that, let’s move on to the second part of this article, where I’ll be giving you an overview of the different kinds of Bible translations and a brief description of 10 of the most popular versions of the Bible in English.