95 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2004
Wondering how the Bible came to be?
Wondering about translation issues?
This is the book for you. Lightfoot gives a good explanation of how the Bible was created and transmitted down through the centuries. The book covers the history of the written language, writing materials, Biblical archaeology, textual criticism, and translational issues.
The book has pros and cons.
Pro: The research is top notch. The author has gone to great lengths to investigate the textual transmission of the Bible.
Pro: The material is explained in an easy-to-understand manner. One need not have a Masters in History or Archaeology to understand this book.
Pro: The book includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
Con: Though the book is well footnoted, the footnotes are all listed in the back of the book by chapter. I prefer footnotes to be either at the bottom of the page that references them or at the end of each chapter. Placing them at the end of the book makes research difficult.
Con: The research and information presented is quite brief. The book presents an excellent overview of the topic but does not go into extensive detail on each topic. Likely, this is not the author's intent but a little more wouldn't have hurt.
I recommend this book for anyone who is wanting to study Bibliology. It's a good place to start.
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2010
To be fair, what this book does cover was done very well. The primary focus of the book demonstrates and does a good job proving that the texts we use today in the Bible have been accurately passed through the years. The author presented abundant information in this regard.
Where the book falls short is the discussion of how the canon came together. Why did the letter to Jude get included? Didn't Paul write some other letters?
The author relies too much on the reader's faith in the Bible and reinforces their affirmation that the Bible is true. I was expecting more history of how the original texts were included in the first place.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2005
I've always wondered (and I'm sure many others have, too) how that Bible I'm always holding on Sunday morning got to be put together in the first place.
But in this day and age of busy schedules who is really going to go to a library and do some exhaustive research on the subject? That's why you need to read this book, because the research is already done for you and presented in a way that even the average person can understand it. You won't be inundated with technical words and jibberish.
The book (this is a review of the SECOND edition) is neatly divided into 13 chapters, each little over 10 pages long. Makes for easy reading during your lunch break or whatever freetime you have in your day. And as if that wasn't simplistic enough, each chapter is ended by a summary, followed by some questions that would make this book great in a classroom environment.
The chapters are as follows:
1) The Making of Ancient Books, 2) The Birth of the Bible, 3) Manuscripts of the New Testament, 4)Other Manuscripts and New Testament Witnesses, 5) The Text of the New Testament, 6)Significance of Textual Variations, 7) Restoring the New Testament Text, 8) The Text of the Old Testament, 9)The Canon of the Scriptures, 10)The Apocryphal Books, 11) The English Bible to 1611, 12) Recent Translations of the English Bible, 13)"My Words Will Not Pass Away".
I found this book very helpful in answering my questions. Sure, it doesn't go very deep into any one subject, but that is not the point of this book. This book is only meant as a brief overview. If there is a specific aspect of the history of the Bible that you're interested in then you should look elsewhere. A good place to start would be by looking at the footnotes in this book (located at the BOTTOM of each page in the Second Edition, not at the end), where you will find many other references that the author used in preparing this book.
This book does not get five stars only because this is the only book I have read on this subject, so I can not say that this is the most accurate or best book on this topic. Maybe there is a better one out there. But nonetheless, this is a good place to start and a good book to read.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2005
Straightforward and easy to read, How We Got the Bible is most helpful because it so important to know the background and historicity of the Bible. If we are to defend the truths we learn in Scripture, we have to know why Scripture is credible. I will return to this text, because, although I highlighted the heck out of it, I still find myself struggling during conversations with skeptics,--nable to remember when the Sinaitic manuscript was made, and the exact chronology of the canon's development.
Lightfoot's work has whet my appetite for the history of the Bible. I will soon go back through the book, making notes of some of the most important points made. Items such as:
"The Massoretes...sought ways and methods by which to eliminate scribal slips of addition or omission. This they achieved through intricate procedures of counting. They numbered the verses, words and letters..."
"Copies of Thucydides are thus about 1,300 years later than the date of their original composition, yet no effort is made to discount these copies in spite of such a wide interval of time."
Also, Lightfoot's sound explanation of the weaknesses of the King James Version was quite timely. I recall a recent conversation with a fellow who is of the "KJV only" persuasion. While I was initially sympathetic to him, assuming it to be simply a matter of taste, I have come to realize that the profound shortcomings of the KJV make it inappropriate for regular use in worship and instruction. And, worse, some people even seem to use the KJV as a form of legalism and fencing of the Scripture, keeping anyone who speaks modern English from a true understanding of the text.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2006
Lightfoot has written the definitive study of the origens and development of the canonical Scriptures. He is forthright, honest, and faithful in his description of what is known and, just as important, what is not certain about the writing and collection of the Bible. I have examined a number of other sources, and this one is without peer. A very strong plus is that Lightfoot is exceptionally economical without stinting at all. As a result of this and his authorial abilities, the book is very short and very complete.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2004
Dr. Lightfoot (Ph.D., Duke University) serves as Frank Pack Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Abilene Christian University. In his preface to this, the 3rd edition, he states (p. 9):
"This study seeks to be a factual and honest account of how the Bible has been preserved and handed down to our generation. The subject is vast and at times complex. It has been my constant aim, therefore, to simplify the material and to state it, so far as possible, in a nontechnical manner. On the other hand, I have tried to get down to the heart of the question, for too many studies of this kind have been content with the mere citing of superficial facts about the Bible. These facts are important and interesting, of course, but they do not tell us how we got the Bible."
The author has delivered on his stated aim, balancing interesting details concerning the origin and preservation of the biblical text with simplicity of presentation. Significant emphasis is placed upon describing the various important manuscripts (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin) which are behind the biblical text we have today. The text is never dry and includes fascinating descriptions of significant archaeological and manuscript finds which make the journey through the text read somewhat like a detective novel at times.
The text is especially well-suited as an introduction to all matters surrounding the discovery and preservation of the biblical text-covering topics such as early alphabets, writing materials, writing techniques (of early scribes and the Massoretes), as well as substantial descriptions of the most important manuscripts which are given priority in textual translation in our day.
A helpful section on textual variations explains the types of textual differences found among manuscripts and provides guidance in assessing their significance in an understanding of the reliability of what we have today as our Bible. This includes an assessment of the Hebrew (Massoretic) text and the Septuagint in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A helpful aspect of this work is the author's greater emphasis--relative to other popular treatments of the topic--on understanding the earliest manuscripts, with relatively less text devoted to describing the English language translations which spring from them.
Slight detractions, from this reviewer's point of view, are the author's obvious preference for the few Alexandrian manuscripts and a perhaps overly-simplistic representation of textual criticism as an exact science rather than an art guided by fallible heuristics. No consideration is given to the possibility that the few oldest manuscripts, which appear to have been restricted in circulation, may not in fact represent the most reliable (best) text. Also, some comments by the author seem to argue against verbal inspiration (p. 91). But these are relatively minor criticisms among an overall excellent treatment of the subject matter by an author who is obviously himself a devoted man of faith.
We recommend this text to anyone who is interested in the subject of the discovery and analysis of manuscript evidence supporting the reliability of the Word of God.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2005
Coming from a position of knowing little about the manuscripts behind the Bible, this book was most helpful in presenting a balanced and readable account of the key issues. It includes the different physical types of manuscripts, a survey of all the significant manuscripts, an introduction to techniques of textual criticism for resolving uncertainty in the text, evidence on how and when the canon was established, and short considerations of the most English translations of the Bible. The presentation is strong on fact and low on rhetoric, and yet very readable - an ideal combination.
Naturally I found myself wishing the book would go into more detail on many a subject: but I suppose that is actually a mark of its success in getting to the heart of the key issues. So then I moved on to what I thought were more in-depth books, such as that by FF Bruce. What surprised me was that I found time and time again that Lightfoot actually gave more *facts* per square inch than any other comparable book. I can hardly think of one significant fact I learned from the other books which wasn't already in Lightfoot's. So don't be put off by suggestions that it might be a bit light, superficial, and basic. There is more in it than many books twice the size.
There are one or two points which could usefully have been addressed without adding too many pages. For example, Lightfoot tends to assume implicitly that older manuscripts are better, almost by definition. In view of the hot debate on this issue, a short, factual contribution would have been welcome. Also, a more factual rebuttal of critics who erroneously claim that the texts are unreliable, rather than just a few important quotes and statements, would have been helpful.
One of the legacies of reading this book is that I find that I can now make sense of - and take an interest in - a lot of the debates and arguments which rage over the text and its translation. In my opinion, it is the best book out there for someone wishing to learn the key facts about the Bible manuscripts in as short a time as possible.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Here's a book that should have a large niche audience. On a recent trip to a large bookstore, I was immediately greeted by the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Gospel of Judas". These, and a number of other 'Gnostic' and 'heretical' "gospels" are lately popularly argued to evidence a conspiracy through which Christianity (as the world believes it knows it) has been a mere arbitrary artifice; one that might just as well have been something else. Popular movies and television "documentaries" present just this picture -- Christianity is essentially a vast and ancient conspiracy, arbitrary and artificial.
Lightfoot is a rather orthodox scholar, and I emphasize both 'orthodox' (in the Protestant sense) and 'scholar'. I point this out because many conservative / main-stream / orthodox writers who treat issues such as this have done so with an embarrassing lack of serious scholarship, and thankfully this is not the case with Mr. Lightfoot. Interested Christians and interested non-Christians alike will learn a great deal in the reading of this volume. Although the author may be questioned on some points, he is generally not especially dogmatic, particularly on points where sound scholarship should indeed admit uncertainty. I thought he started rather weakly, defending, albeit from important recent findings, the traditional idea of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Is this necessary? Moses is the Hebrew personality around whom most of the Pentateuch is related, and it is apparent, both in terms of best explanation and textual claims, that he would have been the point of origin for many of the accounts, but this does not in any way establish him as "the" author of the whole of the Torah. In fact the text does not at all make such a claim; in fact, as Lightfoot freely admits, it claims that (at the least) Joshua was also a contributor, and the possibility of other contributors is not denied. But this is a small problem, if it is one at all. It will probably not be of particular interest to individuals with no exposure to, or concern for, so-called higher (i.e., source) criticism.
There will also be some objections to the author's assertions that the apocryphal books should not be included in a Christian Bible. As is obvious, most Roman Catholics will hold such objections. This well-worn disagreement is not going to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction and it is dealt with as a very small portion of Lightfoot's exposition.
These 'problems' are, at worst, small. This is an excellent and even entertaining book. Among ancient texts, the writings of the New Testament and the Tanakh / Old Testament are extremely unique in both the quantity and the quality of their extensive corroborating documentation. There is a wealth of information here regarding the writings that have, and have not, been consistently accepted as canonical (literally meaning compliant with a standard "measure") throughout history. Further, the writings of ancient expositors and commentators make it clearly evident that the canon accepted today is the same canon accepted by the early Christian church. One looks at the extensive commentaries of Origen, for example, and suspects that the entire canon is exposed in these commentaries alone. On the other hand, actual evidence for would-be conspirators artificially contriving a canon is conspicuously non-existent.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2011
Precisely because I do not believe it, I wanted to read an informed, honest argument by someone who believes that the Bible was written word-for-word by God (dictated to Moses, etc.) and that its original text was inerrant. Dr. Lightfoot's book did not disappoint me.
He discusses much of the same material as more sceptical commentators, such as the large number of errors and inconsistencies between Biblical manuscripts and the fact that all we now have are hand-written copies of copies of copies from the Middle Ages.
He doesn't spend any time on higher criticism, evidently because he doesn't believe in it. But apart from that, he agrees with mainstream Biblical scholars about the facts of the Bible's development over the centuries and the difficulties in interpreting a book from a different millennium and a vastly different culture.
Where his interpretation diverges from the mainstream is that, when there is any doubt about the accuracy of the original Biblical text, Dr. Lightfoot assumes that the Bible must have been correct: that Moses wrote down the Pentateuch, that the Gospels are consistent, that Jesus did indeed think he was the son of God, that he intended to found a new religion, and that he rose from the dead.
What makes me respect this book is that although Dr. Lightfoot puts his own "spin" on interpreting the facts, he never misrepresents what the facts are. He proves that the same set of facts as other scholars use to "disprove" certain aspects of the Bible can also be interpreted in a way at least consistent with fundamentalist Christianity and Biblical literalism.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2009
I can't say enough about this concisely written, well-researched little book on the origin of our Holy Bible. It is written with the layman at heart, yet contains vital information that is scholarly in its source, yet is easy-to-read and appreciate. It is perhaps one of the best books of this type on the market. I strongly recommend it to every inquisitive student of the Bible who wants to learn the history of this most remarkable of all books.