What version of the bible do you read?
It seems like most people have a preference for one translation over another, but the real question is truly: Which version of the Christian Bible is most complete according to the inerrant Word of God? Fortunately, history can tell us a lot about this issue!
First, we need some context.
For over 300 years, the Early Christian Church used the spoken word to spread the New Testament scripture, teachings, and philosophy. Bishops, priests, and other theologians verbally communicated the teachings of Christ without a bible. This fact is what makes the following Bible verses make more sense:
1 Corinthians 11:1-2 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.”
2 Timothy 1:13-14 – “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.“
2 Thessalonians 2:15 – “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”
We can read within the New Testament passages of the Bible itself that, during the time of the Apostles, there was no formal agreement on which texts were valid, which were spurious, and/or which were heretical. Furthermore, the only unified, sound Christian truth in their lives, until the Bible was assembled in the fourth century, was that of the clergy leading the Church. The letters to the Bishops Timothy & Titus from Paul himself were a means of preserving this Christian tradition from Jesus Christ. These Bishops had originally been appointed by the Apostles and who followed Apostolic Tradition according to the original teachings of Jesus Christ, without a consolidated, standardized book from which to teach.
One of the reasons for the lack of a book was that almost none of the scriptures/texts were originally written down. Various reasons can be blamed for this. And one of the primary reasons for very few scriptures being written in the time immediately following Christ’s resurrection is because the Apostles and their immediate successor Bishops assumed that Christ would be back immediately. Therefore, these observers of the newly blossomed Christianity saw little need to keep a textual record of Christ’s teachings when the Gospel could also be shared by word of mouth. Only when the Apostles began to pass away and the Church Leadership began to think Christ would not immediately return did a larger movement being to ensure that all of the scriptures were written down and assembled together for the sake of posterity.
1 Luke 1:1-4 – “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
It was the unified clergy, in adherence to the Apostolic Tradition, who then collected and validated Apostolic connections of the Scriptures that would form the Bible. And it was these men who translated scriptures into what would become the Bible that we think we know today. And, this is only the beginning of the story.
The original lack of organization in the Scriptures led to confusion within the Church during the 4th century over the canon and structure of the Old Testament when considering whether the Septuagint (also known as the Seventy or the LXX) or the shorter Hebrew Bible would be the most appropriate version of the Israelite Scriptures to be used for Christian reference.
The Septuagint, then the oldest known version of the Old Testament, parts of which dated back to somewhere around 247 BC. It had been translated into Greek by the Sadducees (Zadokites/Levites) under the direction of King Ptolemy II of Egypt. King Ptolemy, a Greek King, held control because of the fact that Judah had been ruled by the Greeks since it had been conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC.
By contrast, the Hebrew Bible dated from the early 2nd Century AD, more than 300 years later than the Septuagint. It was based on collected Masoretic Texts which had also been translated into Greek by Pharisaic Jews following both destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the demise of the *Levites. (We’ll talk more about the demise of the Levites below.)
Today, the oldest versions of the Old Testament available to us are found in the Septuagint & the incomplete Dead Sea Scrolls that had been maintained by the Essenes prior to their demise under the Romans in the middle of the 1st Century AD.
To summarize: Three groups of Jews maintained the Hebrew scriptures up to the early-mid 1st Century AD:
1) Pharisees, non-priests who had limited access to scriptures, passed tradition down orally adding information as they saw fit to keep up with the times, they were modernists; further Pharisee Gamaliel II instituted the Amidah (“Standing Prayer”, facing Jerusalem, bowing and repetitions)(a.k.a. “The Eighteen”, The 18 Benedictions, or the 18 Curses) after 70 AD which was used to curse & out Christians (“Minim”) as heretics, thus keeping Christians away. Amidah contained: Birkat haMinim (“Blessing on the Heretics”). Paul the apostle studied Judaism under Gamaliel II’s grandfather Gamaliel I as noted in the book of Acts 22:3. Controlled ALL teaching of Judaism after 70 AD; and, the Masoretes (6th-10th Centuries AD), authors of the Masoretic versions of the Hebrew scriptures, came from these Pharisaic traditions (Pharisees – Jewish Encyclopedia.com)
2) The Sadducees, (a.k.a. Zadokites, Levites or Jewish Priests), focusing on earthly gain & their elevated status in the time of Jesus, had passed down written information within the Septuagint in order to preserve the written laws of Moses while opposing Jesus. They Sadducees were also modernists which is one of the reasons why they translated the Septuagint to keep up with the Hellenistic influences of the ruling Greeks (King Ptolemy); starting around 284 & 247 BC and finishing around 132 BC. Even though they were modernists (Hellenistic Jews), they took Issue with the Roman Pompey and his successors which led to multiple conflicts with Roman leadership while the Pharisees did not. These conflicts set between the Romans and the Sadducees resulted in power struggles that encouraged Herod Agrippa II to act. Under the urging of the Pharisees, Herod executed the Sadducee leadership of the Sanhedrin, ultimately resulting in a complete disappearance of any Jewish following of the original priestly order of the Israelites after the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. (Pharisees – Jewish Encyclopedia.com)
3) The Essenes, monastic Levites who had separated from the Sadducees, disliked both of the other groups believing they both had broken their Mosaic Covenant with God by seeking alignment of their lifestyles with their Hellenistic (Greek) rulers. Additionally, under Hasmonean (Greek) rule, written Jewish laws and religious texts were burned by the Greeks and those in possession of such documents were put to death(1 Maccabees 1:56-57). In light of all the challenges facing the Jews in the 2nd Century BC, it seems reasonable that the Essenes maintained and hid away copies of the sacred scriptures (Dead Sea Scrolls) that went undiscovered until 1946. These sacred scriptures included Hebrew versions of the full Septuagint. Additionally, their stored works included the books of Enoch(Henoch) and Jubilees which are referenced in the books of Peter & Jude in the New Testament. Fearing Roman persecution after the Jewish uprising in 66 AD, the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden in the caves at Qumran; and, ultimately the Essenes were wiped out by the Romans around 70 AD
Regarding accuracy of the Scriptures held by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, scholars Menachem Cohen & Lawrence Schiffman believe the Dead Sea Scrolls (held by the Essenes) to have some significant differences with the Masoretic Texts assembled, developed, and translated by the Pharisees. This scrutiny of the Masoretic Texts implicitly scrutinizes the Hebrew Bible (based on the Masoretic Texts) as well.
Additionally, Joseph Fitzmyer noted the following regarding the findings at Qumran Cave 4 in particular: “Such ancient recensional forms of Old Testament books bear witness to an unsuspected textual diversity that once existed; these texts merit far greater study and attention than they have been accorded till now. Thus, the differences in the Septuagint are no longer considered the result of a poor or tendentious attempt to translate the Hebrew into the Greek; rather they testify to a different pre-Christian form of the Hebrew text”.
Here is an example of an alignment issue shown in the numbering discrepancies of the Psalms of David. The Septuagint/LXX/Latin Vulgate does not match the Masoretic/Lutheran texts:
|Hebrew (Masoretic/Lutheran) Numbering||Greek (Septuagint/Vulgate) Numbering|
To compound the complexities, we have another significant difference between the texts in the Deuterocanon. The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the following Scriptures that the Hebrew Bible does not (from Wikipedia):
- Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4–16:24)
- Wisdom (also called the Wisdom of Solomon)
- Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
- Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah in the Septuagint)
- Additions to Daniel:
- Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24–90)
- Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13, Septuagint prologue)
- Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14, Septuagint epilogue)
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls align directly with the Septuagint, comprised by the Sadducees and do not align with the later, shorter Hebrew Bible, assembled by the Pharisees.
Lastly, let us consider which version of the Hebrew texts is more correct. To do this with a bit more clarity, we now must look at the New Testament of the Bible itself. ALL versions of the New Testament of the Christian Bible contain the following passages that reference the Deuterocanon that Luther and the Pharisaic Jews deemed “Apocrypha”. (The Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls version of the Old Testament contains the following referenced materials.) And, the following list comes closer to proving that the referenced apocryphal books, also known as the Deuterocanon, aren’t in fact apocryphal at all:
- Hebrews 11:35 – “…Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might find a better resurrection.” The only place in the Old Testament. that you will find reference to that is 2 Maccabees 7:1-29. The first half of Hebrews 11:35 is found in 1 Kings 17:23 and 2 Kings 4:36.
- Hebrews 11:38 – “They wandered in deserts and mountains…”This is found in 1 Maccabees 2:28-30 and 2 Maccabees 5:27.
- John 10:22 – “Now there took place at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication…” The inauguration of this feast is found in 1 Maccabees 4:36 & 52-59.
- John 14:23 – “…If anyone love Me, he will keep My word…” This is in Sirach 2:18.
- Romans 9:21 – ” is not the potter master of his clay…” Found in Wisdom 15:7.
- 1 Peter 1:6-7 – “…gold which is tried by fire…” See Wisdom 3:5-6
- Romans 1:20-23 – “For since the creation of the world…” Found in Wisdom 13:1-7
- Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31 – “…all that you wish men to do to you, even so do you also to them…” Extension of Tobit 4:15
- Matthew 25:35-36 – “I was hungry and you gave me food….I needed clothes and you clothed me.” The “Golden Rule” based on Tobit 4:16.
- Revelation 21:18 – “And the material of its wall was jasper; but the city itself was pure gold, like pure glass.” See Tobit 13:21-22.
- Matthew 13:43 – “Then the just will shine forth…” Found in Wisdom 3:7.
- Matthew 27:42 – “…if He is the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross…” See Wisdom 2:18-20.
- Luke 24:4 – “…two [angels] stood by them in dazzling raiment.” Found in 2 Maccabees 3:25-26.
- Romans 11:33 – “…How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable are His ways.” Found in Judith 8:14.
- 1 Corinthians 10:20 – “…they sacrifice to demons, not to God…” Found in Baruch 4:7.
- John 14:6 – “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Found in Sirach 24:25.
Let’s summarize. We have 3 Jewish groups, maintaining 3 collections of Hebrew Scriptures. They are as follows:
1. Sadducees (Levites) wrote the Septuagint dating from around 247 BC
2. Essenes (Levites) held the Dead Sea Scrolls dating back before the time of Christ
3. Pharisees held the Masoretic Texts, assembled in the 1st/2nd Centuries AD, missing the Deuterocanonical Books.
But, even though we have reads scholarly opinion that the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known and longest, near-matching collections Jewish Scriptures, they would not used as the Scriptural foundation for Rabbinical Judaism. Both of those collections of Scriptures are older and more complete than the Masoretic Texts of the Pharisees that would be assembled in the 2nd Century as the Hebrew Bible. The fact that modern Judaism does not use the complete likely is an effect of the Roman responses to Jewish revolts where many Jews were killed. By the 2nd Century AD, only the Pharisees would survive the 1st Century because they would not be wiped out by the Roman rulers who went on to utterly crush the religious sects of the Sadducees and Essenes.
Now, lets look at a Biblical Composition Timeline:
3rd Century BC – Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus, requests 72 elders to translate the Hebrew scriptures, held by the Levite/Zadokite Priests, which document the faith and history of Israel from the Hebrew language into Greek. The resulting document becomes known as the “Septuagint” or “LXX” which both mean: “The Seventy”. References start showing up to the LXX in the 2nd Century BCE. Ultimately, the Sadducees adhere to this collection of the religious scriptures until the group disappears from history in the 1st Century AD.
1st Century AD – Pharisaic (Rabbinical) Judaism rejects the Septuagint as canonical and begins re-assembling the Hebrew scriptures that will become the Hebrew Bible following destruction of the Temple.
Prior to 147 AD – Translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, from the assorted, collected scriptural texts is completed by Aquila of Sinope.
c. 150 AD – Justin Martyr recites multiple verses in his Apology that are verbatim with the scriptures of what would become the New Testament. And, Justin writes in his Dialogue with Trypho that the Pharisees were attempting to modify the scriptures away from their original meaning:
“I am far from putting reliance in your teachers, who refuse to admit that the interpretation made by the seventy elders who were with Ptolemy [king] of the Egyptians is a correct one; and they attempt to frame another. And I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the [Septuagint] translations effected by those seventy elders who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as God, and man, and as being crucified, and as dying” – , Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter LXXI, 161 AD
c. 170 AD – Debate over the composition of the bible is seen with Melito of Sardis & the Muratorian Fragment. Influence of the Pharisees is seen here where the Hebrew Bible list is used as opposed to the LXX.
c. 200 AD – Tertullian advocates inclusion of 1 Enoch into the Scriptures. (In the 20th Century, we would learn that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the books of Enoch and Jubilees.)
c. 330 – 360 AD – The Codex Sinaiticus was assembled as the first ever complete canon of the a book form (non-scroll) of the bible containing the LXX and the 27 books of the New Testament we know today. Fifty copies of this book were commissioned by Eusebius under authority of Constantine to spread the accepted scriptures. It was only rediscovered in 1844. The text was written in Greek, in 4 columns, with no spaces between words and no punctuation whatsoever. Church scholars were required to discern the proper meaning and translation of the text.
c. 350 AD – Cyril of Jerusalem omitted the Book of Revelation/Apocalypse from the list of canon due to its misuse by Christians of the period.
364 AD – Council of Laodicea accepted the Hebrew Bible for the Old Testament, ignoring the more-complete Jewish texts of the Essenes which included Enoch and Jubilees.
c. 391 AD – Rabbis (descended from the Pharisees) convince St. Jerome to use the Hebrew Bible texts alone as the basis for the standardization of the Latin Vulgate (uniform church-standard Bible) instead of the Septuagint. Jerome followed the Rabbis’ suggestions; and he begins validation/standard of the older Latin texts against the Hebrew Bible & the “Apocrypha” (Deuterocanon) works as he drafted a standardized Latin Vulgate. His translation/standardization is completed in 404 AD. Jerome’s books were not put into the order seen in the Septuagint or the Catholic (Douay-Rheims) Bible today. (Jerome’s later letters show a change of his views from the rabbinical view back to accepting the more complete LXX as the truest and fullest version of the Scripture.)
393 AD – First Church Approved Biblical List of Canon at the Synod of Hippo using the Septuagint as the basis of the books to be included in the Old Testament. The list below is that which is seen in the Catholic (Douay-Rheims) Bible today:
– Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the Son of Nun, The Judges, Ruth, The Kings, 4 books (I Sam, II Sam, I Kings, & II Kings), The Chronicles – 2 books, Job, The Psalter (Psalms), The Five books of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, Song of Songs, & Sirach/Ecclesiasticus), The Twelve Books of the Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Nabakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, & Malachi), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Esther, Ezra – 2 books, Macchabees, 2 books.
– New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, The Acts of the Apostles, The 14 Epistles of Paul, Thee 2 Epistles of Peter, the Apostle, The 3 Epistles of John the Apostle, The Epistles of James the Apostle, The Epistle of Jude the Apostle, The Revelation/Apocalypse of John
400 AD – Jerome completes his work on the translation & assembly of the Latin Vulgate.
1522 AD – Intending to get closer to the original meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures, Luther makes to change the list of Christian canon. He alone identifies books from the Old Testament to be removed based on the Hebrew Bible he received from Jews. Luther deems these books Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, 1 Macchabees, & 2 Macchabees to be Apocrypha even though no fewer than 15 references in the New Testament are made to those books*. When looked at through the lens of the New Testament and the writings of Justin Martyr, the Masoretic Texts also are shown to have removed some references to the Messianic (Christ) prophecies found in the Septuagint as seen below:
1522 AD – Having already changed the bible from the list of canon established in 393, Martin Luther writes of the reduced significance of the New Testament Scriptures of Hebrews, James, Jude & Revelation. He took particular issue with the issue of faith and works being required for salvation. Verses like: James 2:14-26 caused issue even though his views on these texts would change later in his life.
1534 AD – Martin Luther reasserts the Pharisaic/Masoretic view of the Old Testament by re-declaring the following books to be part of the Apocrypha: Tobit, Judith, 1st & 2nd Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach & Baruch; this contrasts against the list approved at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD which used the Septuagint/LXX version of the Old Testament. Martin Luther used the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic & Pharisaic texts) as if they were the originals based on inputs from the the Jews of the time period. These inputs determined what books would be in his protestant version of the Bible; Luther argued that no scripture should be permitted into the Old Testament unless the Jews included it in their Bible. But, his argument ignores the Septuagint created by the Jewish priests in the 3rd century BC. And Luther’s arguments ignored the writings of the Church Fathers like Origen, Tertullian, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, Ambrose, or Augustine.
1546 AD – Council of Trent (1545-1563) reaffirmed the traditional list of Biblical books established by the Catholic Church in 393 AD.
1582 AD – Douay-Rheims Bible, the first English version of the New Testament is published in Rheims, France in order to preserve what context and traditions of the Church that had been held within the Biblical texts for over 1500 years.
1609 AD – Douay-Rheims Bible, the first English version of the Old Testament is published in Rheims, France in the same vein as the 1582 publishing.
After looking at the timeline, we must note that – All versions of the bible are imperfect!!! Wars, natural disasters, loss of texts, changing languages, translation errors, and/or competitive pride of different religious factions have clouded the accuracy of any completed bible in the modern era. The Biblical Scriptures are inerrant. However, our interpretations of them may not be. These issues prevent any one of us from assembling the “perfect” Bible with any singular, perfect translation. Thus, a combined review of multiple versions of the Biblical Scriptures in context with historical events and early traditions of the Christian Church is most effective means to employ when attempting to discern the true and fullest meaning of the Christian Scriptures within the Bible.
So, now that we look at all of this information, putting translation issues aside, we hope it becomes very clear to all that the Septuagint, mirrored by the Dead Sea Scroll and carried on the in the Douay-Rheims Bible by the Catholic Church maintains the fullest collection of the scriptures available to us in the modern era. Translations still must be performed to discern the meaning of the Douay-Rheims texts, but with ALL of the Hebrew Scriptures considered, we can acquire the most complete picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if we are looking for the unabbreviated Word of God, we must look to the Douay-Rheims and the Septuagint for our initial answers.