What if I told you that early in the Christian Church’s history, there were hundreds of translations of the
Christian Bible? What if I told you that there were tons of thousands of different stories purporting to talk about Jesus Christ and His disciples? What if I told you that when you look at all those texts, it’s very easy to become confused about what it means to be a Christian, what the proper relationship between God and man is, as well as other important doctrinal issues? What if I told you that early on in the Christian church’s history, there were many people who believed God lies within, meaning every man ultimately is a god?
Sounds crazy, right? Sounds like a completely different place and time from what we have now. You would be absolutely correct to think that. Any attempt to figure out where the modern Bible came from must take into account these historical trends.
The modern Bible is simply a collection of Greek manuscripts from the several decades after the death of Jesus all the way to 200s. Around this time, there were many competing versions of the Bible. Some were written in the Coptic language, others were in Syrian, and Babylonian. There were all sorts of competing translations, but if you took the time to read the text, there is actually quite a tremendous amount of continuity among these different types written in different times in different languages.
It is in this context that the early church decided to commission a monk named St. Jerome to compile a wide range of Hebrew and Greek texts to put together what eventually became the Old and New Testament. This version called the standard Latin Vulgate because it’s written in the “vulgar” or common Roman tongue became the standard Catholic Bible for hundreds of years.
However, it was far from perfect. First, it included books from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that the Jews themselves did not recognize. These books became a pillar of medieval Catholic theology until the Reformation corrected these errors.
Moreover, there were problematic translations in the Vulgate that actually played a big role in shaping Catholic theology and setting the groundwork for the conflict that erupted in the great Reformation. For example, the whole concept of penance was in fact based on a mistranslation of the word repent.
The modern Bible initially arose from the efforts of Jerome to come up with a standardized Christian text. Make no mistake about it, he did an amazing job. He could have easily dropped the ball and incorporated all these conflicting Gnostic texts that would have totally distorted Christian theology and possibly poisoned the Christian faith early on, but the fact that he was able to filter out a lot of that noise, and come up with truly inspired text is quite a feat in of itself.
Still, the modern Protestant Bible arises from the Textus Receptus-a compilation of ancient Greek manuscripts and other translated texts gathered by legendary Renaissance era humanist scholar Erasmus.