If you have ever wondered about the origins of the Bible, and about the history of its text, then you should read Larry Stone’s 2010 book The Story of the Bible. In nine chapters, Stone reviews the Bible’s languages, the historical backgrounds of its books, and – of special importance to students of textual criticism – its transmission. The Story of the Bible features pouch-pages containing 23 removable full-size, full-color facsimiles of pages from important manuscripts and printed Bibles, including the following:
● Papyrus 46: the last page of Ephesians and the first page of Galatians
● Codex Vaticanus: the last page of Second Thessalonians and the first page of Hebrews
● Codex Sinaiticus: the last page of Luke
● The Lindisfarne Gospels: the first page of text of Matthew
● The Winchester Bible: the first page of Genesis
● William Tyndale’s 1526 English New Testament: the last page of Luke and the first page of the Gospel of John, and
● The 1611 King James Version: frontispiece.
In addition to the removable facsimiles, the text of The Story of the Bible is generously supplemented by photographs of sample-pages of a variety of manuscripts, including the Aleppo Codex and the Book of Kells. While less sumptuous than some other books about manuscripts (such as Illuminated Manuscripts – Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum), the pictures in The Story of the Bible represent a wide range in terms of manuscript’s ages and locales.
At the website www.storyofbible.com visitors can not only learn about Stone’s book but also learn more about the manuscripts, translations, and media that are featured in it, ranging from the Great Isaiah Scroll to The Devil’s Bible (Codex Gigas) to The Jesus Film. There is also a special section that presents over 100 selected excerpts from the KJV. A YouTube video tells more about the book, with some comments from the author.
Not everything in Stone’s book can be relied upon. He unfortunately repeats the false story that says that Erasmus made a rash promise to include the Comma Johanneum if a Greek manuscript could be found that had it in the text of First John. In a section that focuses on the Greek New Testament and Textual Criticism (pages 66-67), Stone is guilty of spreading a misimpression about Mark 16:9-20, stating that this passage is missing not only in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus but also in “other very old manuscripts,” which is not the case. He also perpetuates Neil Lightfoot’s grossly inaccurate method of counting textual variants: “‘if one slight variant were to occur in 4,000 different manuscripts, this would amount to 4,000’ variations.”
Stone also does a disservice to scholars such as Bengel and Bentley (to say nothing of Reformation-era researchers such as Zegers) when he writes that “Not until the nineteenth century did scholars begin making judgments on which reading was “best.”” Also, in a section about Constantine von Tischendorf, Stone repeats the highly dubious story that Tischendorf spread (but which the monks of Saint Catherine’s Monastery deny) about how he found parchment leaves of Codex Sinaiticus “in a basket of manuscripts used for kindling to light fires.” These errors – no doubt the result of dependence upon inaccurate sources – are comparable to a few counterfeit coins in the midst of a treasure-chest filled with valuable information.
The Story of the Bible’s website should be updated about the Book of Kells: although Stone says at the website that “As far as I know, Ireland’s finest national treasure [the Book of Kells] is not online in its entirety,” the situation has changed, and now each extant page of the Book of Kells can be viewed at the Trinity College Dublin website.
The Story of the Bible closes with a short but stirring chapter about Bible-distribution efforts by missionaries, Bible societies, and Bible translators. May The Story of the Bible inspire its readers to not only vigilantly guard the text of the Bible and its message, but also to continue to take the gospel into all the world.
Readers are invited to explore the embedded links to additional resources.