Is the Bible Today What Was Originally Written?


By Andreas J. Köstenberger

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic (the Old Testament [OT]), and Greek (the New Testament [NT]). The Bibles we use today are translations from the original languages into English (or other languages). Jesus most likely taught in Aramaic (though he probably also knew Hebrew and Greek), so that the Greek NT itself represents a translation of Jesus' teaching from the Aramaic into Greek.

The question, "Is the Bible today what was originally written?" involves two important questions: (1) Are the available manuscripts (mss.) of the Bible accurate representations of the original mss. of the respective books of the Bible (the autographs of Scripture)? This is an issue of textual transmission. (2) Are the available translations faithful renderings of the Bible in the original languages? This is an issue of translation.

With regard to the first question, no original autographs exist of any biblical text; only copies are available. The word "manuscript" is used to denote anything written by hand, rather than copies produced from the printing press.  Textual evidence constitutes anything written on clay tablets, stone, bone, wood, various metals, potsherds (ostraca), but most notably papyrus and parchment (vellum).

Most ancient books were compiled and then rolled into a scroll.  Since a papyrus roll rarely exceeded 35 feet in length, ancient authors divided a long literary work into several "books" (e.g., the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles consisted of a two-volume set composed by Luke).

Later, sometime during the first or second century A.D., the codex came into use.  The codex consisted of bound sheets of papyrus and constitutes the prototype for the modern book format.  Thus early Christians began to collect and collate individual books into what is now the canonical NT. The term "Bible" derives from the Greek word biblion (book); the earliest use of ta biblia (the books) in the sense of "Bible" is found in 2 Clement 2:14 (c. A.D. 150).

Even though the original autographs are lost, the extant ms. evidence allows a high degree of confidence in the text of the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments are attested by a large number of mss. in a variety of forms spanning many centuries.


        Is the Bible Today What Was Originally Written?