Ancestry of the English Bible (II): The Making of Ancient Books

Mike Willis
Mooresville, Indiana

This article shall deal with a short study of how ancient books were made. After asserting that the scriptures are inspired, we shall notice how these early books of the New Testament were made and handed down to us.

The Materials Used

For years prior to the New Testament, any type of material available was written upon. Clay tablets, potsherds, wax tablets, and stones were all used for writing. However, by the time of the writing of the New Testament papyrus was used for writing.

From the papyrus plant which grew to 1215 feet in height, this early paper was made. The stem of this plant, which grew to about the size of a man's wrist, was cut into sections about one foot long. Each section was cut open lengthwise and the pith was cut into thin strips. A layer of these strips was laid down horizontally on top of which was laid a layer of strips placed vertically. Moisture was then applied to the two layers, which were then hammered flat and placed in the sunshine to dry. This fabric made a fairly good quality of paper, though it quickly became brittle.

These strips of paper were about one foot square. Many of these squares were then either sewn or glued together to form a scroll around 30-35 feet long.

Because of the disadvantages of papyrus, another material, made from animal skins and called parchment, soon replaced it. Since the thinner the leather was, the better suited it was for writing purposes, expectant animals were butchered shortly before delivery so that the hide from the unborn offspring could be used to make a better quality of parchment called vellum. The most obvious advantage of parchment over papyrus was its durability.

The Form of Ancient Books

The earliest New Testament books were -probably written on papyrus scrolls. On these scrolls of 30-35 feet length could be written one book about the size of Luke or Acts. Since the scroll was only written on one side, half the paper was wasted. Also, the searching for proof texts proved a very laborious task.

Therefore, the scroll form for making books was soon replaced by a leaf form of book called a codex. Its advantages were evident. Both sides of the writing materials could he used for writing and the search for proof texts was much easier. No little advantage was the fact that more than one book of the Bible easily could be carried.

Characteristics of Ancient Books

Early manuscripts fall into one - of two categories - uncial or minuscule (cursive). The uncial was the writing of Greek in all capitals, as illustrated by its English counterpart below:



These uncials were used from the 3rd-10th centuries for transcribing the sacred writings. From the 9th-16th centuries, cursives replaced uncials in passing down the Bible, simply because they occupied less space and were easier to write. Again in English, contrast the uncial and the cursive:



As you can also notice, early manuscripts allowed its words to run together. No Punctuation was inserted until later when translations were made. Chapter and verse divisions were not added until centuries later.

Now, you have a little knowledge of how ancient books were made. When the apostles and prophets wrote the New Testament, these were the tools available to them.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 15, pp. 7-8
February 18, 1971