How Did We Get The Bible?
The Bible has been passed down to us for 3200-3400 years. While it was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament), and Greek (New Testament), it has now been fully translated into approximately 636 languages. Still another ~2,883 languages have some portion of the Bible.
The unfortunate reality is that the Bible is still not available to over 50% of the world's languages. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are still well over 4,000 languages without the full Bible, leaving ~180 million people without access to any scripture whatsoever. There is still much work to do to reach all the nations. We should be forever grateful that the Bible has been translated in our own native tongue.
A common misconception is that the Bible we read in English has been countlessly translated in the last 2,000 years from language to language, making it unreliable and paraphrased at best. However, many of the English translations (though not all) are textually critcized by leading scholars, fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, and are drawn from the best available surviving Bible texts in their original languages.
Sometimes called the "Greek Old Testament", the Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament Bible, written around 300 BC. This translation was especially significant for Alexandrian Jews in Egypt, who were fluent in Koine Greek but not in Hebrew.
The Sinaitic Manuscript
"Codex Sinaiticus" is the oldest surviving full version of the New Testament, written in the 4th century AD, and is vital for translating the New Testament from its original Greek language.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Discovered in 1947 in the Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea, this collection of documents dates back as far as the 2nd century BC, and contains 225 biblical texts, including the entire book of Isaiah in its original Hebrew. This specific scroll dates back to around 125 BC. Other texts found were many Psalms, the Torah, several minor and major prophets, and parts of many other books. In fact, you can see the digital rendering of the physical Dead Sea Scrolls here.
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this text was the oldest surviving edition of the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretic Text is commonly used in synagogues today as the authoritative Word of God in the Old Testament. In the 10th and 11th centuries, two translations were made using the Masoretic texts: the Aleppo Codex (10th century AD) and the Leningrad Codex (1009 AD).
Targum Onqelos, the Torah written for Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews, dates back to as far as 100 BC.
The Syriac Peshitta
A simple translation for the Jews in northern Syria, dating back to the 2nd century AD. It later included the New Testament as well (which was added by Syriac-speaking Christians).
The Latin Vulgate
Written by St. Jerome in 382 AD. Pope Damasus I asked Jerome to translate the Old Latin text into the then common Latin. After being circulated and becoming widely known as the versio vulgata, Jerome's translation replaced the Old Latin Vetus Latina and became the official Latin Bible in the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
Some Other Texts Used For Translation
"No other piece of ancient literature has such an abundance of manuscript witnesses as does the New Testament" (New International Version Bible Committee, NIV vi). These texts, among others that were not noted, are still used today to translate the Bible. We have sixty-six books immediately accessible to us, in our native tongue, in countless translations, many of which teams of expert scholars translated word-for-word and/or phrase-for-phrase from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages, using other ancient texts and manuscripts when phrasing was unclear or inconsistent.
I often take it tremendously for granted that I can read a Bible without thinking twice, that my phone has hundreds and thousands of translations immediately accessible, in virtually any language I can think of.
Let's be forever grateful for God's masterpiece in our hands, and let's read it all the more, knowing how many people worked tirelessly, over thousands of years, to preserve the Word of God for us.