Science/Technology and the Bible

Modern Christians have no trouble accepting the Bible's use of man made technologies, such as written language, writing and printing materials and logical organization (chapter and verse numbers) or in the science of Textual Criticism for reconstructing the most accurate text from the many variations that have come down to us. Using scientific methods to analyze the meaning of the text should be equally acceptable. Here is a brief history of the relationship between scientific methods and technology and the Bible.

Pre-historic Invention of oral language and memory techniques such as poetic meter to preserve oral tradition.

Before 1000 BC Invention of Hebrew alphabet and writing materials (papyrus scrolls, pens and ink).

Second Century BC Beginning of the use of Vellum (parchment) instead of papyrus as a writing material providing a much more durable transmission medium.

Second Century BC appearance of "koine" Greek as a common language throughout the known world.

About 100 BC Seventy scholars translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, this version called the Septuagint (or "Seventy") is the version of the Old Testament used by the early Church. One result of this is that all occurrences of "anointed one" were translated as "Christ" and were taken to refer to Jesus even if the original did not support this interpretation.

First Century AD Invention of the "codex" or hand sewn book with pages replaces the scroll making Bible study much simpler.

170 AD Tatian's Diatessaron: a failed attempt to merge the four Gospels into one version, the work is condemned, Tatian leaves Christianity to become a Gnostic. One problem, Tatian thought Matthew's Palm Sunday was a different event from the Palm Sunday described in the other Gospels because of the two animals versus one that he rides in on.

Third Century AD Origen of Alexandria's Hexapla: six versions of the Old Testament set side by side in columns to examine variations in the text.

326 AD Eusebius writes the first history of the early church, also devised a limited numbering scheme in the Gospels and showed Gospel parallels.

Fourth Century AD Constantine exploits the Christians for political gain, in return makes Christianity the official religion of the Empire and convenes a world wide council of Christians to codify an official Christian faith. This period ends the Roman persecutions and brings Christianity out of the closet.

Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD St. Jerome translates the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin, this version known as the Vulgate becomes the official Bible in the Roman Catholic Church. Fourth and Fifth Centuries AD The Great Uncial Codices are written. Outside of fragments, our oldest complete (or nearly complete) copies of the New Testament date from this period.

Ninth Century AD Revolution in the style of handwriting replaced large block letters (Uncials) by small connected letters (minuscules) resulting in an explosion in the number of Bible manuscripts. Unfortunately this also introduced a great many more copyist errors into the texts. Once an error was made, all future copies from that text contained the same error.

1450 AD Invention of Guttenbergs moveable type resulted in wide spread availability of the Bible.

1514 AD First printing of the Greek New Testament by Cardinal Ximenes as part of his Complutensian Polygot Bible with Hebrew Aramaic Greek and Latin in parallel columns.

1516 AD First publishing of a Greek New Testament by Erasmus a Dutch Catholic using incomplete manuscripts.

1553 AD Robert Stephanus (a protestant printer in Geneva) published a French version of the Bible using the Chapter and Verse numbering scheme still used today.

1611 AD King James translation of the Bible is published. It decided textual differences based on using the reading in the most versions rather than just the oldest versions. Consequently it suffered from the copyist errors mentioned above in the minuscules versions. Also, the translators thought that koine Greek was a special formal Greek used only for the New Testament since it differed from classical Greek and so they translated it erroneously into a very formal English.

18th Century Rationalism and the "Enlightenment" see the rise of scientific method. These methods are first applied to New Testament study by R. Simon a French Oratorian priest (1638- 1712). Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries AD As more early manuscripts are uncovered, classification schemes are developed to classify families of manuscripts based on common variations in the texts. No agreement is reached until Westcott and Hort in the late 19th Century when they determine four main groups.

1745-1812 J. J. Griesbach is credited with putting textual criticism on a truly scientific basis by developing sound rules for determining the best reading among variations in the texts.

Late 18th Century H.S. Remarus first tries to differentiate between the historical figure of Jesus and the embellished Christ of the Gospels. Attempts to recreate the historical Jesus continue unconvincingly through out the 19th century.

1832 F. Schleiermacher first hypothesizes the existence of the Q document, a written source now lost which was used by Matthew and Luke in writing their Gospels.

1859 C. von Tischendorf discovered one of the two oldest Biblical Manuscripts we now have. (Codex Sinaiticus)

1863 H.J. Holtzmann published a painstaking study of the Two Source Theory that Matthew and Luke used Mark and the Q document. Scientific Source Criticism in the early 20th Century examined the underlying Aramaic flavor in this Q document and other places in the New Testament.

1863 J.B. Lightfoot stated that if we could recover letters reflecting the day to day lives of ordinary people in the 1st century, our understanding of New Testament Greek would be greatly enhanced.

Late Nineteenth Century A. Deissmann discovery of letters, bills and receipts in Egypt written in koine Greek in the first century demonstrated that koine was the language of the common people and not special or formal.

1906 Albert Schweitzer published The Quest for the Historical Jesus in which he reviewed the attempts of the last century to create a consistent biography of the historical figure of Jesus from the Gospels. He concludes that this cannot be done since the Gospels are a unique literary form different from a modern biography in structure and intent and should not be retroactively fitted into a modern format.

1910's R. Reitzenstein and W. Bousset are among scholars in the "History of Religions" school, they discern parallels between early Christianity and other cults (the hellenistic "Mystery Religions") in the Greco-Roman world. They note that the title "Kyrios" or "Lord" used of Christ is borrowed from such cults as may be the dying and rising redeemer motif.

1919 K L Schmidt, M. Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann develop Form Criticism believing that there was an underlying oral tradition behind the Gospels that circulated in small independent units (which can be discerned in the text) having been written down by the early church with connecting verses added. The Early Church kept only what was relevant at the time it was written down and made slight adjustments to it to fit their current needs. The Early Christians had no interest in history as we know it today and made no attempt to write the Gospels as a biography. These scholars advocated attempting to discern the "sitz im leben" or "life-situation" context in which a saying of Jesus occurred which may be much different then the way the Early Church framed the event to fit their needs.

1920's-1970's Rudolf Bultmann, recognized as one of the most influential New Testament scholars in the 20th century, introduced a technical definition to the term "myth" and applied that definition to "demythologize" the New Testament. He also defined a new Christian Existentialist interpretation of the New Testament.

1943 Pope Pius XII wrote the encyclical Divine Afflante Spiritu granted Catholic scholars much more freedom in their work and also that translations of the Bible from the original languages may be made, not just from the Latin Vulgate.

1947 J. Jeremias work The Parables of Jesus attempts to recover the actual words of Christ by reconstructing the original Aramaic Jesus would have spoken from the New Testament Greek.

1947-1956 Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, hundreds of manuscripts dating from the second century BC to the first century AD including all of the Old Testament except Ester as well as Essenic religious texts. This discovery ranks as by far the most important archaeological find in history.

1947 Discovery of the Gnostic Library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, original texts from an early rival religion of Christianity.

1950's World Council of Churches begins to adopt Scientific Methods in its Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

1961-1965 Vatican II adopts Scientific Biblical Criticism as the official way to interpret the Bible. 

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