While early Christians may have sometimes struggled to understand exactly what the scriptures taught about the nature of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they eventually recognized something distinctive about the God described in the New Testament. The God of Christianity has a triune nature, and His character is reflected in His creation. The Bible teaches two truths: there is only one God, and God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all that same God:
TIMELINE OF THE BIBLE
c. 1400–400 B.C. Books of the Hebrew Old Testament written down.
c. 250–200 B.C. The Septuagint, a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament, was produced.
A.D. 45–85? Various Books of the Greek New Testament written.
90 and 118 Councils of Jamnia give final affirmation to the Old Testament canon (39 books).
New Testament Addition
The oldest surviving manuscript of any part of the New Testament is a papyrus fragment containing verses from John 18; scholars estimate it was written about 125.
140-150 Marcion’s heretical “New Testament”, claiming 2 Gods (OT and NT), incites orthodox Christians to establish a NT canon.
303-306 Diocletian’s persecution includes confiscating and destroying New Testament Scriptures.
c. 305-310 Lucian of Antioch’s Greek New Testament text; becomes a foundation for later Bibles.
367 Athanasius’s Festal Letter lists complete New Testament canon (27 books) for the first time.
397 Council of Carthage establishes orthodox New Testament canon (27 books).
c. 400 Jerome translates the Bible into Latin; this “Vulgate” became the standard of the medieval church.
English Versions From Latin
c. 650 Caedmon, a monk, puts Bible books into verse
c. 735 >Historian Bede translates the Gospels
871-899 King Alfred the Great translates the Psalms and 10 Commandments
950 The 7th-century Lindisfarne Gospels receive English translation
955-1020 Aelfric translates various Bible books
c. 1300 Invention of eyeglasses aids copying
c. 1325 Both Richard Rolle and William Shoreham translate psalms into metrical verse
1380-1382 John Wycliffe and associates make first translation of the whole Bible into English
1388 John Purvey revises Wycliffe Bible
1455 Gutenberg’s Latin Bible—first from press
English Versions From Greek
1516 Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, forerunner to the Textus Receptus used by KJV translators
1525 William Tyndale makes the first translation of the New Testament from …
CODE OF HAMMURABI
From the Old Babylonian Period - the Code of Hammurabi was one of the only sets of laws in the ancient Near East, and one of the first forms of law (about 1754 BC). Today, approximately 275 laws from Hammurabi’s Code are known. Each law is written in two parts: A specific situation or case is outlined, then a corresponding decision is given.
One of the best known laws from Hammurabi's code was:
Ex. Law #196: "If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man's bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man's slave or break a bone of a man's slave he shall pay one-half his price."
Hammurabi had many other punishments, as well. “If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off.”
The laws covered such subjects as:
Slander : Ex. Law #127: "If any one 'point the finger' at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair)."
Fraud : Ex. Law #265: "If a herdsman, to whose care cattle or sheep have been entrusted, be guilty of fraud and make false returns of the natural increase, or sell them for money, then shall he be convicted and pay the owner ten times the loss."
Slavery and status of slaves as property : Ex. Law #15: "If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death."
The duties of workers : Ex. Law #42: "If any one take over a field to till it, and obtain no harvest therefrom, it must be proved that he did no work on the field, and he must deliver grain, just as his neighbor raised, to the owner of the field."
Theft : Ex. Law #22: "If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death."
Liability : Ex. Law #53: "If any one be too apathetic to keep his dam in primly condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the crops which he has caused to be ruined."
Divorce : Ex. Law #142: "If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: "You are not congenial to me," the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father's house."
Perjury : Ex. Law #3: "If a man has borne false witness in a trial, or has not established the statement that he has made, if that case be a capital trial, that man shall be put to death.”
The oral traditions within the church formed the substance of the Gospels, the earliest book of which is Mark, written around 70 A.D., 40 years after the death of Jesus.
It is theorized there may have been an original document of sayings by Jesus known as the Q source, which was adapted into the narratives of the Gospels. All four Gospels were published anonymously, but historians believe that the books were given the name of Jesus’ disciples to provide direct links to Jesus to lend them greater authority.
Matthew and Luke were next in the chronology. Both used Mark as a reference, but Matthew is considered to have another separate source, known as the M source, as it contains some different material from Mark. Both books also stress the proof of Jesus’ divinity more than Mark did.
The Book of John, written around 100 A.D., was the final of the four and has an unfair reputation for hostility to Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries.
All four books cover the life of Jesus with many similarities, but sometimes differences in their portrayals. For instance, the books of Matthew and Luke present different accounts of Jesus’ birth, and differ on details of the resurrection.
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the Bible, and predicts a final celestial war through prophecy. Authorship is ascribed to John, but little else is known about the writer. According to the text, it was written around 95 A.D. on an island off the coast of Turkey. Some scholars believe it is less a prophecy and more a response to the Roman destruction of the Great Temple and Jerusalem.
This text is still used by Evangelical Christians to interpret current events in expectation of the End Times, and elements of it find frequent use in popular entertainment.
Surviving documents from the 4th century show that different councils within the church released lists to guide how various Christian texts should be treated. The earliest known attempt to create a canon in the same respect as the New Testament was in 2nd century Rome by Marcion, a Turkish businessman and church leader. Marcion’s work focused on the Gospel of Luke and the letters of Paul. Disapproving of the effort, the Roman church expelled Marcion.
Second-century Syrian writer Tatian attempted to create a canon by weaving the four gospels together as the Diatessaron.
The Muratorian Canon, which is believed to date to 200 A.D., is the earliest compilation of canonical texts resembling the New Testament.
It was not until the 5th century that all the different Christian churches came to a basic agreement on Biblical canon. The books that eventually were considered canon reflect the times they were embraced as much the times of the events they portray.
During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, books not originally written in Hebrew but Greek, such as Judith and Maccabees, were excluded from the Old Testament. These are known the Apocrypha and were still included in the Catholic Bible until very recently.
There may exist sayings of Jesus that are not recorded in the four Gospels. They come from books that never made it into the New Testament, but which nonetheless contain some reliable historical information. Extra-biblical sayings that might be from the lips of Jesus are: “The one who is near me is near the fire; the one who is far from me is far from the kingdom”; “There shall be divisions and heresies”; “No one can obtain the kingdom of heaven who has not passed through temptation.”
The word Bible comes from the Greek word for “papyrus plant” (biblos), since the leaves of that plant were used for paper.
The Roman Catholic Bible contains the Apocrypha, so is larger than the Protestant, but the largest Bible in Christendom belongs to the Ethiopic church. It contains the Old Testament Apocrypha and books such as Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Joseph Ben Gurion’s medieval history of the Jews and other nations, Ethiopic Clement, and the Ethiopic Book of the Covenant.
The Apocrypha contains: Tobit, Judith, the Additions to Esther, the Additions to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah and the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach), Baruch (also called 1 Baruch), the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. The Greek Orthodox Church adds 1 Esdras, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees, with 4 Maccabees in an appendix. The Russian Orthodox Church adds 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Psalm 151, and 3 Maccabees. The Roman Catholic canon places the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, and 2 Esdras in an appendix without implying canonicity.
Additional Biblical texts have been discovered, such as the Gospel of Mary, which was part of the larger Berlin Gnostic Codex found in Egypt in 1896. Fifty further unused Biblical texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, known as the Gnostic Gospels.
Among the Gnostic Gospels were the Gospel of Thomas—which purports to be previously hidden sayings by Jesus presented in collaboration with his twin brother—and The Gospel of Philip, which implies a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The original texts are believed to date back to around 120 A.D.
The Book of Judas was found in Egypt in the 1970s. Dated to around 280 A.D., it is believed by some to contain secret conversations between Jesus and his betrayer Judas.
These have never become part of the official Biblical canon, but stem from the same traditions and can be read as alternative views of the same stories and lessons. These texts are taken as indications of the diversity of early Christianity.
The church was largely controlled by the Catholic church from the beginning, as it descended directly from Peter, who mostly lived and then died in the capital of the Roman Empire (Rome). The Catholic church fought heresies, kept meticulous records, and was outside the conflicts of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople. The Catholic church filled the power vacuum left by the crumbling Roman Empire, becoming the governing and spiritual authority of western culture. The Great Schism of 1054 saw the Latin speaking west separate from the Greek speaking Eastern Orthodox Church because of a) the role and authority of the Pope, and b) disagreement as to whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Catholics) or only from the Father (Eastern Orthodox).
The Catholic Church believes:
Roman Catholic Church is the one true church.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that, in and of themselves, the Holy Scriptures are not a sufficient guide and authority with regard to salvation. In the 1800s, Cardinal John Henry Newman (a high-profile convert from Anglicanism) argued for the “development of doctrine,” in which the Holy Ghost infallibly guided and guides the Roman Catholic Church toward dogmatic truth.
Roman Catholics believe in purgatory, a state in the afterlife in which a Christian’s sins are purged away, typically through suffering. This includes punishment for sins committed in one’s earthly life. It may be helpful for Protestants to understand purgatory as sanctification extended even after death, until one is truly transformed and glorified in perfect holiness. All those in Purgatory will reach heaven eventually.
Roman Catholics also hold to the idea of the “treasury of merit.” Roughly speaking, this is a sort of “bank” of grace, in which the merits of Jesus Christ and His holy saints are stored and can be accessed for the benefit of other Christians. It is inexhaustible due to Christ’s own infinite merit. Roman Catholics will pray to Christ or any variety of saints, beseeching them for such benefits. It is important to remember that Roman Catholics do not understand themselves to be worshipping the saints; they seek to honor them (dulia) while recognizing God alone as worthy of divine worship (latria). Protestants are typically skeptical of this distinction. One of the major controversies during the Protestant Reformation on the Pope’s claim to special access to the treasury of merit. In particular, the popes claimed that one could obtain indulgences from the Church, which could reduce the temporal punishment due for sins committed on earth. This meant shortening one’s time in Purgatory. These indulgences could be obtained for oneself or a loved one. What is more, the popes allowed for the sale and purchasing of indulgences, typically to help raise funds for their magnificent buildings and other projects. This enraged many theologians and pastors, including Martin Luther. Indulgences are still issued today, even though they are not commercialized as they were in the late medieval era thanks to reforms made in the Counter-Reformation.
With some exceptions, the Roman Catholic Church requires that her clergy be celibate. This has been a mandatory policy since the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). The Fourth Lateran Council also mandated private oral confession for sin to a priest at least once a year (as well as participating in Holy Communion annually).
That same council prescribed transubstantiation as the authoritative understanding of the Eucharist. Transubstantiation is the belief that, when a priest says the words of institution, the bread and wine in Holy Communion changes in substance to become the body and blood of Christ. The elements are no longer bread and wine; those features are simply accidents. The essence of these elements has been transformed.
Other major Roman Catholic dogmas include a belief in the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary and her bodily Assumption. While all Christians believe Jesus had an immaculate conception--that he was born free from original sin inherited from Adam--Roman Catholics insist on Mary also having the similarly miraculous conception as a point of orthodoxy. Moreover, they also believe her body was assumed--taken up--into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Her corpse is not to be found on earth. Alongside Eastern Orthodox Christians and some Protestants, Catholics believe that Mary remained a perpetual virgin even after Jesus Christ’s birth.
“Catholic” literally means “respect for the whole” and, in theological contexts, simply refers to the universal Church—all Christians who are truly part of Christ’s Body. Typically, the term was used to describe universally accepted Christian beliefs. “Roman Catholic” refers to a more particular Christian tradition and ecclesiastical body. Other things to know about the Roman Catholic Church:
The Roman Catholic Church is known for its social stances, particularly with regard to the family. Abortion is forbidden, as is use of artificial contraception. Married couples interested in family planning are encouraged to pursue Natural Family Planning (NFP).
Roman Catholicism recognizes seven sacraments, which are important means of grace for the Christian life. Like Protestants, Catholics hold Baptism and the Eucharist as sacraments. Catholics also believe confirmation, reconciliation (penance), anointing of the sick, marriage, and ordination to be sacraments. Traditional Roman Catholic theology makes a distinction between mortal and venial sins. Venial sins are slight sins that do not damn one’s soul. Mortal sins are grave sins that do separate one from God and will result in a person ending up in Hell if not absolved before death.
Like most other Christian traditions in history, Roman Catholicism allows for men and women to pursue monasticism. The Roman Catholic Church is home to several orders of monks, friars, nuns, and sisters. They minister in many important ways in the Church.
The Roman Catholic Church has espoused a wide variety of political stances and approaches throughout history. The tone and tenor of official Roman Catholic documents can vary greatly depending on the time they were written. Sometimes, the Pope can make sweeping claims of political authority. At other times—including today—the Roman Catholic Church is more modest in its exercise and demand for civil power.
What should Protestants, Anabaptists, and Eastern Orthodox Christians think about Roman Catholicism? With regard to the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Christian morals, Roman Catholicism gets lots of big things right. With regard to doctrines of grace, salvation, and authority, it gets a lot of big things wrong and can give us an understanding of why early Protestant documents included “anti-Christ” language with regard to the Pope. Regardless, it behooves any Christian to know Roman Catholic beliefs and history, if for no other reason than the church’s size and influence.
The cost of a Bible in the 1300s might easily amount to a priest’s whole yearly income.
As Erasmus was pulling together his celebrated Greek New Testament (1516), he could find no ancient Greek manuscripts of the last six verses of Revelation. So he made his own “backward” translation—from Latin back into Greek! For centuries, in fact, some Greek New Testaments still concluded with Erasmus’s Latin-to-Greek translation of these verses.
The Bible’s chapter divisions were created in the early 1200s by a lecturer at the University of Paris. Its current verse divisions were not fully developed until 1551.
Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in a blitz of only 11 weeks (1522 for the NT, and 1534 for the complete Bible).
The medieval church did not object to Bible translations; by the early 1500s, there were Bibles in most European languages. But the church opposed the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale because these translators held “radical” views…even burning Tyndale at the stake.
When English Bibles were first published, people were fascinated with them. One Essex man recalled that “poor men bought the New Testament of Jesus Christ and on Sundays did sit reading in the lower end of the church, and many would flock about them to hear their reading.”
Tyndale’s translation introduced many new words into the English language, such as longsuffering, peacemaker, scapegoat, filthy lucre, and even the word beautiful. William Tyndale could speak seven languages and was proficient in ancient Hebrew and Greek. He was a priest whose intellectual gifts and disciplined life could have taken him a long way in the church—had he not had one compulsion: to teach English men and women the good news of justification by faith.
Tyndale had discovered this doctrine when he read Erasmus's Greek edition of the New Testament. What better way to share this message with his countrymen than to put an English version of the New Testament into their hands? This, in fact, became Tyndale's life passion, aptly summed up in the words of his mentor, Erasmus: "Christ desires his mysteries to be published abroad as widely as possible. I would that [the Gospels and the epistles of Paul] were translated into all languages, of all Christian people, and that they might be read and known."
William Tyndale’s first English New Testament, finished in 1525, had to be printed outside of England and then smuggled back inside barrels of flour and bolts of cloth. Catholic bishop Tunstall of London bought up most of Tyndale’s first edition in order to stamp out Tyndale’s “heresy”—but the proceeds financed new editions!
When the King James Version was published in 1611, the Geneva Bible was by far the most popular English Bible. It was the Geneva translation, not the King James, that was used by William Shakespeare and the early American Puritans.