Archive for October, 2011

When we speak of the books that are included in the Bible we are referring at least indirectly to what is called the Canon, a list of books that are considered authoritative. The Canon of scripture developed over a long period of time and is a story for another post, perhaps more than one. However, I want to talk just a moment about the way in which books evolved and were collected, specifically books of the New Testament.

Once again, we have to understand the limitations of copies made by hand on parchment or papyrus. This is an example of how function dictated form. In the ancient world books were heavy, bulky—and expensive. So it was that even with the development of the codex or book form, early copies of the Bible tended to become organized around collections of books. This was done for two reasons. First the canon was still being formed. There was originally no universal agreement as to what books should or should not be included. Perhaps equally important were the size limitations. Our earliest examples of complete Bibles are extremely large, heavy, and bulky. You would not sit down and read it in your lap. So it became fairly common for books to be collected together in a way that several books would be included in one manuscript, but at the same time would be smaller and easier to use than a complete Bible. Of course, cost played a factor in this also. A complete Bible that  included all the books we have now would be unbelievably expensive, so they were few and far between.

For instance, the largest collections of manuscripts we possess are of the four gospels. The earliest manuscripts we possess of the gospels have headings that read “According to Matthew, According to Mark, According to Luke, According to John.” This shows that early on, these four gospels had a recognized place. The gospels were not necessarily copied in the order in which they appear in our New Testament. While the traditional order is common, another order referred to as the “Western order” includes manuscripts containing the gospels in the order of Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark.

Other manuscripts comprise the letters of Paul, often including the book of Hebrews, but sometimes excluding the Pastoral Epistles. This has to do with the issue of authorship. That pesky topic keeps coming up, so I suppose I am going to have to deal with it before long. They are also not necessarily in the same order as our current Bibles. Below is a picture of the earliest manuscript we possess containing the letters of Paul. It originally contained 104 leaves, of which only 86 remain. Several leaves are missing from the beginning and also from the end.

p46 @ AD 200

This manuscript dates from @ AD 200 and is labeled as p46 (the “p” indicates that it is written on papyrus). If you can read this early form of Greek, you will recognize that the top of the page shows the end of the book of Romans, and it is followed by the book of Hebrews, which presumably was considered to have been written by Paul. The actual order of books in this manuscript is interesting. It begins with Romans (the beginning is missing, so the manuscript begins with Romans 5.17). Romans is followed by Hebrews, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians. There are pages missing from the manuscript which probably contained 2 Thessalonians and Philemon. Often manuscripts included books based on length, going from longest to shortest. That is probably why, even today, Philemon is the last of Paul’s letters in our New Testament.

The next largest section are the Catholic or general epistles (James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude). Acts might be included in this collection. The least represented book in early manuscripts is the book of Revelation, because it was perhaps the last book to gain universal acceptance.

One item of interest concerning Revelation has to do with William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English. Tyndale was the first to translate the New Testament into English from the original Greek (Wycliffe’s translation was from the Latin Vulgate). When Tyndale came to translate the book of Revelation, he was confronted with a problem. At that time no Greek manuscripts were known that contained the final verses of Revelation. How then could Tyndale translate the ending of Revelation from the Greek into English? The solution he decided on was certainly questionable. He simply took the Latin Vulgate translation of the ending of Revelation, translated that into Greek, and then translated his own Greek translation into English. While certainly we can question the integrity of such an approach, it did allow his translation to be a translation from the Greek. In answer to your unspoken question, we now possess several Greek manuscripts which do include the final verses of Revelation.

So the next time you read from your Bible, recognize that the form it has now evolved over a long period of time. I have heard people argue that God inspired, not just the books themselves, but even the order in which they appear in our Bibles. Perhaps more can be said about that at a later time, but honesty should compel us to acknowledge that such an argument would have made no sense to the earliest Christians.

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All right, it’s time to get back in the groove with the real topic of this blog; however, I am going to ease into it slowly.

I suspect everyone knows at least something about how significant the printing press has been in spreading the written word, including the Bible. The impact of the printing press has rightfully been compared to that of the computer for our own time. Suddenly books no longer had to be created by the tedious process of being copied by hand. Instead, once a page of type was set using individual letters, hundreds of copies could be made in a relatively short period of time. Another advantage of the printing press was accuracy. No more textual variants. If the type was set correctly, then all the copies would be accurate.

Actually printing in some form goes back to 3000 B.C. The first use of moveable type was around A.D. 1040 in China, but it never became widely used, possibly because of the large number of characters in the Chinese alphabet.

The modern printing press was perfected by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany. Virtually everyone knows that the first printed book was a Bible (the Gutenberg Bible). It probably took several years to perfect, so a period of around 1452-1455 is probably the time frame for its creation. Although printed in Germany, the Gutenberg Bible was the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. It was printed on parchment, not paper. Here is a picture of a Gutenberg Bible. As you can see, it is quite ornate.

Gutenberg Bible

Okay, so much for boring history. Here is the bit of trivia I want to share today. As we have already said, the printing press made use of moveable type, individual letters which could be placed on a frame, spelling out the page that was to be printed. Since they were made in reverse, when they were inked and the page pressed against the parchment or paper, the impression would print the letters correctly.

But all these hundreds of individual letters had to be stored somewhere, and they needed to be readily available and organized, so that a skilled typesetter could set a page of type quickly. Therein lies an interesting story. The original printing presses were huge pieces of equipment. It became efficient to build in two large drawers or “cases” one on top of the other in which to store the letters of type. For whatever reason, it became standard practice to store the larger capital letters in the “upper case” and the smaller letters in the “lower case.” Today, we still use the terms “upper case” and “lower case” letters in describing our alphabet. Now you know where those terms came from.

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First of all, my apologies to my Facebook friends. This will be the last you see about my book. At the same time, I am taking this opportunity to explain something of my book in more detail than I did in my post last night.

For those of you who did not see my post on Facebook, I thought you might be interested to know that I have published a novel for the Kindle which you can purchase from Amazon for $.99. The book is called Time Ship.

The link below should take you to the site where you can view a sample of the book and buy it if you wish. If that fails for some reason, go to the Amazon Kindle Store, and search for Gary Cottrell.


If you do not have a Kindle, Amazon has an area where you can download a free Kindle Viewer for your PC or Mac. They also have free apps for a number of portable devices, including the Ipad, Iphone, Blackberry, and Droid. The link below takes you to the screen where you can download the Kindle for PC.


The novel deals with time travel, but it also contains elements of an old-fashioned mystery story. There is even a love interest, ladies.

On a deeper level, I use the story to examine some of the difficult questions relating to predestination and free will. This is all in the background, so unless you look for it, you will probably not notice these deeper elements. They do not distract from the plot.

I originally wrote the novel in 1994; however, it has been edited and updated so much, that it has virtually been rewritten. I brought the plot up-to-date and gave the book a completely different ending.

Another element which I do not frequently see in novels has to do with the way I handle my characters. Although there is one character who somewhat predominates through a good portion on the book, there is no “hero” in the traditional sense of the word. I allow the focus of the story to shift to different characters as required by the plot. In this sense, I hope that art imitates life.

This has been a labor of love for me. In the process of writing and editing, I have really come to know my characters. If you read my book, I hope you feel the same way.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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