This review originally appeared at [...] on 9/17/08.
Special thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a copy of this book to review.
Every year in my classes, one of the most common questions I get is "how did we get the Bible?" Most don't know much about how the Bible was written, copied, and translated through the centuries. Thankfully, Dr Clinton Arnold has given us a book that covers all of this, and more, entitled How We Got the Bible.
The subtitle is "A Visual Journey," a most accurate subtitle. Each "chapter" (never actually called that) takes 2 pages, with a short paragraph on the topic and quite a few great pictures. The pictures alone make this book worth owning (but maybe I just like pictures). You'll find pictures of papyrus used for copying the Bible, pictures of ancient scrolls, fragments, etc. When you see the pictures of the ancient copies with their holes and tears, you'll realize just how much trouble it is for scholars to determine what the ancient documents actually say.
Arnold also includes information on how and where the Bible was copied through the centuries- from scribes in monasteries and scriptoriums to the Gutenburg Press. You get a sense of the battles over translating the Bible- for John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther and even in modern times, such as with the Yali people of Indonesia. In my mind, after working through these pages you get a little more perspective on the ridiculous "translation wars" of our culture.
I couldn't find much to argue with in this book. Sure, there were times you could have wished for more information, but this book isn't an academic treatise. Perhaps a recommended reading list would have been helpful for those who wanted to pursue a particular topic further. On his chart of recent English Bible translations, Arnold categorizes some Bibles as "gender neutral," a term that I find loaded and misleading to many. But if that's the worst thing I can say about this book, then I won't complain too loudly.
For me, there were two powerful aspects of reading through the book. First, it continues to amaze me how God's people painstakingly copied and produced the Scriptures over the centuries. While you'll still find some who argue that the Bible we have today is so corrupt that we'll never know what it originally said, I find it so hard to support such a claim given the evidence. This book illustrates this truth.
Second, Arnold does give a couple examples of modern Bible translation in languages that did not have the Bible- the Yali people of Indonesia (first Bible in 2000) and the three languages of the people of Kambari, in Nigeria. It reminded me of just how far we have to go to get the Word of God into the hands of those who most desperately need it. I've said for some time that the Bible is the best missionary there is, but it's something we often take for granted. In honor of this, here are links to 2 organizations highlighted in the book that are working to solve this problem: United Bible Societies and Wycliffe Bible Translators.
It's quite a feat to produce a book that is informative yet brief and interesting, Dr Arnold has accomplished this. I highly recommend this book and hope it gains a wide readership.