The writers of the New Testament included Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude. The original manuscripts of the New Testament were penned between about A.D. 50 and 100, in the Greek language. Paper was not known at that time in that part of the world, but a similar substance was used to write on. It was called papyrus. Pages were made by pressing together strips of pith from the papyrus reed. This was useful material, and some documents written on papyrus have survived even to the present day in places that are very dry. But over a long period of time most papyrus eventually decays or is destroyed. It has been about 1900 years since the original manuscripts of the New Testament were written, and so none of the originals are on hand today.

However, that does not mean that the message contained in those originals has been lost. Long before the originals perished they were faithfully copied. Early Christians believed the writings of apostolic men to be inspired by God. Peter, for example, classed Paul’s writings along with “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quoted from the Old Testament and then quoted the New Testament words of Luke 10:7, and called them both “Scripture.” Generations of Christians shared this same belief that New Testament writings were divinely inspired.

Their deep reverence for these words from God caused them to copy very carefully. They also wanted to spread the message because they believed it necessary for saving mankind. Therefore many, many copies were made and widely distributed.

A few centuries after Christ a new material for writing became common. It was called vellum, a soft and durable type of leather. Copies written on vellum lasted much longer, and many have survived to thepresent day.

As Christianity spread it came into contact with people of other languages. They too needed to study the Christian message, so the Bible was translated into their languages. The earliest translations – called “versions” – included Latin (the language of Romans), Syriac (in the Middle East), and Coptic (in Egypt and Ethiopia). Numerous copies were then made of each version.

One of the main languages of the Western world was Latin. In time a translation called the “Latin Vulgate” became popular. It was based on Old Latin translations of ancient copies. The first translation of the Bible into English was from this Latin Vulgate and was done at the instigation of John Wycliffe in 1382. William Tyndale made a translation directly from old Greek into English in 1526. The Roman Catholic Church burned him at the stake for doing this. A number of versions based on Wycliffe and Tyndale followed. Churchmen wondered which of the growing number of English versions should become official or standard. The Roman Church naturally thought the answer should be its own translation from the Latin Vulgate. So it produced the Rheims-Douay version in 1609. King James of England, however, thought that he would answer the question by commissioning a new translation based on original languages. Completed in 1611, it became known as the “King James Version” or the “Authorized Version.” Gradually this became the most popular version among English readers, and is still widely used today.

MODERN VERSIONS

As time passed, it seemed necessary to improve on the King James Version. Like all languages, English changed during the years after King James. Eventually many readers and listeners no longer understood words that had fallen from common use. Some words had completely changed in meaning. Also, after 1611 there were a number of important discoveries. More Greek manuscripts were uncovered. Some of these were much older than anything available to the translators of the King James Version. New translations arose in order to take advantage of these amazing manuscript discoveries, and to keep current with the English language.

Some Modern Versions Are As Follows:

  • (English) Revised Version, 1885
  • American Standard Version, 1901
  • Revised Standard Version, 1952
  • New English Bible, 1970
  • New American Standard Bible, 1963
  • Today’s English Version (N.T.), 1966
  • New American Bible, 1970
  • New International Version, 1973
  • Simple English (N.T.), 1978
  • Easy-To-Read Version, 1987
  • New King James Version, 1982
  • New Century Version, 1987
  • New Revised Standard Version, 1989
  • Revised English Bible, 1989
  • Contemporary English Version, 1995

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