The Story of the Bible
Dr. Klein's review of "The Story of The Bible," by Larry Stone.
Larry Stone. The Story of the Bible. Nashville: Nelson, 2010. 96 pp. $34.99. ISBN 978-1-59555-119-1.
With over ninety illustrations and twenty-three life-sized pull-out facsimile pages—from the world’s most important or intriguing Bibles (starting with the Nash Papyrus and Great Isaiah Scroll from Qumran, all the way to the Waodani Gospel of Mark translated by Rachel Saint), The Story of the Bible is just that—the account over the centuries of the Bible’s writing, translation, and impact on civilization. Inside the front and back covers is a timeline from 2000 BC to the present. Why is this story important? Stone says, “At least one book of the Bible is available in 2,400 of the world’s 6,900 living languages.”
Mr. Stone has been in the publishing business for many years, including executive positions at Thomas Nelson and Rutledge Hill Press, the latter of which he founded. Published just in time for the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the Authorized King James Version (AD 1611), The Story of the Bible succeeds masterfully in portraying how the Bible has not only survived but enormously affected the course of Western civilization. Stone tells the story of how dangerous an enterprise Bible translation was at many times in the church’s history. Indeed the Lollards were burned alive with Bibles hung around their necks. In 1526 William Tyndale was burned at the stake for the crime of publishing the New Testament in English. And yet, in less than a century after his execution, England became a people of this very book, the Bible. Vignettes such as this pepper every page of the book. We learn the inside story of the fits and starts of how we have the Bible.
The Story of the Bible proceeds in a chronological fashion. In Chapter 1 Stone lays out some general facts about the Bible and its origins—including brief discussions of things like papyrus and parchments, and the languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, in which the Bible was written. Stone also explains his own “take” on the Bible’s central message: “The Bible has one theme: God made us, he loves us in spite of our rebellious attitude toward Him, and He wants to reconcile us to Himself” (p. 14). Chapter 2 focuses on the Jews and the Hebrew scriptures, called the Old Testament by Christians. It provides a bird’s eye view of the significance of the finding the scrolls at Qumran. Chapter 3 outlines the process by which the earliest Christians employed the Old Testament and set the stage for the writing of their own scriptures, and how this “new” testament was joined with the “old” to become the Christian Bible. In this chapter Stone includes facsimiles of Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (both 4th century AD) and the P46 Chester Beatty papyrus (between AD 175-225). The reader learns of the wealth and extent of the manuscript tradition for the New Testament—including the fascinating story of Constantin von Tischendorf’s discovery of manuscripts at Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.
Chapter 4 details the spread and persecution of Christianity in the Roman era and the theological disputes in the early centuries of the church’s existence. The facsimiles here include a page of the Peshitta (in the Syriac language in AD 463-464) and one from the Codex Amiatinus (Latin Vulgate, prior to 716). Chapter 5 details the spread of the Bible during the Middle Ages when the church dominated much of life. Facsimiles here include pages from: The Book of Kells (c. AD 800), the Lindisfarne Gospels (7th to 8th centuries), the Morgan Crusader’s Bible (1240), the Winchester Bible (c. 1170), and John Wycliffe’s New Testament (c. 1385). Chapter 6 is devoted to the remarkable century from Gutenberg to Luther and how the world changed with the advent of the printing press. Facsimile pages include: the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1454), Luther’s German New Testament (1522), the Complutensian Polyglot (Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; 1502), and Erasmus’s New Testament in Greek and Latin (1516). Stone includes a helpful two-page description of the practice of New Testament textual criticism.
Stone devotes Chapter 7 to the Bibles in the English language produced in England. We learn the courageous stories of Wycliffe (whose translation was the Middle English of Chaucer), Tyndale, and Miles Coverdale—who produced a complete English Bible with both testaments—culminating with King James and his authorized version (1611). Here Stone includes facsimiles of: Tyndale’s New Testament (1525), the Geneva Bible (1560), and the frontispiece of the 1611 King James Version.
Chapter 8 takes the reader to the story of the Bible in America. Indeed, the first book printed in America was a copy of the Psalms, The Bay Psalm Book, published by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1640. Since religious freedom was a prime motivation for the settling of the colonies, the Bible played an enormous role in America from its earliest days. Stone points out that in 1777 the Continental Congress resolved to import 20,000 Bibles because of its understanding of the use and significance of the Bible (p. 80), though in fact the British army prevented the implementation of this resolution. Eventually, in 1782 Robert Aitken produced the first copies of the KJV Bible on American soil (since the emancipated colonies no longer recognized British law). Then, starting near the end of the nineteenth century, one version after the other appeared in English—and Stone mentions the major players from the Revised Version (1881) to the English Standard Version (2001). Facsimiles in this chapter include lesser known translations: The Bay Psalm Book, the Algonquin Bible translated by John Eliot (1663), and the Bible by Aitken (1782).
The final chapter briefly explains the story of the proliferation of translations and versions into multiple languages around the world. Stone describes the work of the various Bible societies and organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators whose mission is to make the Bible available to as many peoples as possible. Stone also mentions “the JESUS film,” a video production of the gospel of Luke. It has become the most watched film in the world—the sound track existing in more than 1,000 languages—and is the most widely circulated portion of the Bible in history (p. 95). The one facsimile in this chapter is the page from Rachel Saint’s Waodani Gospel of Mark.
So, what is the genre of The Story of the Bible? Not an easy question to answer. It’s certainly “history”—carefully researched and clearly written for non-specialists. Dare I also call it “hagiography”? This is certainly a labor of love. The author loves the Bible and loves to tell the unlikely story of its survival, and then dissemination throughout the world. Is the “living room coffee table book” a genre? If so, this book merits a prominent place thereon. The illustrations, pictures, charts, and insets are rich in color and expertly reproduced. The facsimiles are fascinating and instructive—with useful and clear explanations on the obverse of each one. The book has an underlying apologetic value: surely one may conclude that a Divine hand has exercised oversight over the Bible’s history. And yet the Bible’s survival also tells a very human story of courage, tenacity, faith, guile, risk, vision, and, ultimately evangelistic zeal, that the word of God get as wide as possible an exposure and distribution among the world’s peoples. Pastors will profit greatly from this book; it will remind them and fortify them to tell this fascinating story of the Bible’s significance in the life of the people of God. But equally, any Christian can grasp this book’s wealth of learning and it will encourage us all to regain our commitment to God’s truth as proclaimed in Holy Scripture.
William W. Klein, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament