Our Collection: History of the Bible (Early History)

Have you ever wondered how we got the Bible?  Before working at Special Collections, I knew that some convention had gotten together and decided what would be put in the Bible, and that lots of people died to bring it to the point it’s at today.  But other than that, the history of the Bible was a bit of a mystery to me.  It’s a history that spans over 2000 years, and it is fascinating and miraculous.


When Christ was on the earth, the primary scripture used was the Old Testament, which was commonly called “The Prophets.”  After His crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples wrote their experiences with Christ, and the apostles went out to spread His gospel.  The apostles, primarily Paul and Peter, wrote epistles to various branches of the church, which were to be read in their congregations (1 Thess 5:27).  It is unclear when these epistles began to be gathered into collections, but collections may have begun to appear as early as 115 AD.  It’s also estimated that the four Gospels began to be brought together around this time.

The writings of the apostles began to be more valued because of heresy.  Gnostic teachers began to make claims that Christ had given chosen apostles additional teachings, which the church denied.  The writings of the apostles–as well as which writings were valid–became a focal point for the next few decades.  Around 140 AD a Gnostic named Marcion formed a canon that supported his own views, while rejecting any writings that contended with his beliefs.  This is the first clear example of a canonization of the epistles, and called for both criticism and a need for a clear marking of the books used in the church.

By 200 AD, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the Pauline epistles, were accepted as scripture.  The title “New Testament” was first used in 193 AD.  The oldest list of the books of the New Testament, the Muratorian Fragment, dates from the end of the 2nd century  and lists nearly all of the books that are now used.

Between the 2nd century and the end of the 4th, many men studied the canon and disputed the validity of the writings of the apostles.  Finally, in 397 AD, the Council of Carthage listed the books of the New Testament and decreed that only this canon should be read in churches. Emperor Constantine ordered fifty copies of this new canon, and between 390-405 AD, the Latin Vulgate Bible was published and determined the final order which we still use today.

This information was found at bible.org, which used an article from ISBE.  The article ends by stating, “let it be noted how much the human element was involved in the whole process of forming our New Testament. No one would wish to dispute a providential overruling of it all.”  The history of the Bible truly shows the hand of God working through human servants to do His work, as is evidenced by the history of the next 1600 years.

Our Collection

The oldest known Bible that still exists is the Codex Sinaiticus, dated at circa 300 AD.  It is written in Greek and includes the earliest complete collection of the New Testament as well as several other books.  This is considered ‘the most precious biblical treasure in existence” (source).  A beautiful facsimile edition of the Codex is a valuable part of our collection.


Although we do not own a Vulgate Bible from this time period, we do have two copies of the Latin Vulgate Bible.  These beautiful books are hand-written on velum and required about 200 sheep for the pages in each book.

1260_manuscript Bible_jpg Velum_1260_jpg

Be sure to come in to see these historic Bibles!  Appointments can be made by calling (208) 496-9540. You can learn more about the history of the Bible by checking out the BYU-Idaho Library’s databases, such as GVRL or by searching on the McKay Library catalog.


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