The Bible has an amazing history, surviving wars, disasters, language changes and culture shifts.
In ancient times, the stories of God were passed down through generations by word of mouth. It’s not known who first recorded these stories, but it could have been as early as 1,400 BC. The recording of all the books in the Old Testament took hundreds of years. Once they were all written down, the process of collecting them all together probably began around 400 BC.
Different Christian communities have, through history, come to different decisions about which books belong in the Old Testament. They have all accepted the 39 books in the Old Testament that form the Hebrew Bible of the Jewish people. Catholic Christians also use an additional seven books, plus some extra material in the books of Daniel and Esther. Orthodox Christians accept ten or more additional books as well as the additional material in Daniel and Esther.
When it comes to the New Testament, the majority of Christians agree that the New Testament contains 27 books. The first century AD saw the beginnings of a collection of Christian Scriptures, with two types of document – accounts of the life of Jesus and letters. Early in the second century AD, these two types of documents became known as ‘Gospel and Apostle’ (like the Old Testament categories ‘Law and Prophets’). Paul began writing the first parts of the New Testament possibly as early as 20 years after Jesus’ death. The rest of the New Testament was written between about 50 – 100 AD. In 369 AD, a Bishop named Athanasius was the first to list the 27 books currently in the New Testament and insist on those. This list was confirmed at a church level in 397 AD during the Church Council of Carthage.
The first translation of the whole Bible into English was done by John Wycliffe in about 1380. In 1526 William Tyndale produced the first printed New Testament in English. Since then, the Bible has been translated into English many times.
The Bible was first translated into Māori by Christian missionaries who began arriving in New Zealand in 1814. The first Māori New Testament was printed at Paihia in 1837 and the first full Māori Bible was printed in 1868.
Today, only 542 of the world’s 6901 languages have a full Bible.
The New Testament is available in about 1,897 languages. Sadly, about 500 million people still have no part of Scripture translated into their language yet. Bible Societies around the world are working hard to change this.