Haven't copies of the original Hebrew Bible become corrupted down through the ages?

No, although the Bible of today may not be an exact duplication of the original Hebrew Scriptures, it is the belief and hope of those who live by it that it remains the inerrent word of God. True, throughout history the varieties of copies and translations of the Bible may have encountered variations of transcription styles, interpretations, additions, and ommissions. The original Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament are also long gone, the earliest copies of which are from around 1008 A.D., more than 1,400 years after the Old Testament was completed (the Old Testament manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls predate these by about 1,000 years, however). Even so, Jewish scribes and scholars have always been meticulous about the accuracy of their copies of the Hebrew scriptures. Of the rules governing the duplication of the Holy Scriptures, including the types of parchment and ink to be used, every word and letter was counted to ensure accuarcy and a single error resulted in the destruction of the entire page. If three or more mistakes were discovered on any page, then the entire manuscript was condemned. Authentic copies were used to make other copies, each word of which was said aloud before being written. Sentence structure, letter composition, and column lines were all scrupulously standardized. Traditionally, each scribe reverently wiped his pen before writing the word Elohim and ceremonially washed his entire body before writing Yahweh. To say that the Bible has been corrupted through mistranslations into other languages is to neglect the fact that it still adheres to the strictest forms of scholarly transcription with respect to the original Hebrew. Although not all English Bibles may be completely accurate, it has been the intent of the majority of Bible translations to preserve the Word of God without scriptural error by using the most reliable of the existing ancient Hebrew manuscripts.

        "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." (Luke 16:16-17)
        "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18)

As for the New Testament, the earliest complete manuscripts date from the 4th century A.D. Although the Gospels were supposedly written several years after the death and resurrection of Christ (about 30 years later), they were still written by his original disciples. The manuscripts of the New Testament were probably completed between A.D. 90 and 100 (given John's banishment to the island of Patmos in the mid-90s, when he was believed to have written the Book of Revelation), while many of the first believers and founding church fathers were still alive. Thousands of Greek copies of letters and manuscripts from this period survive to date with references to the original Old Testament manuscripts.

        He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:44-47)

The following brief Biblical history may provide an idea of the changes the Hebrew manuscripts have undergone throughout recorded history, up until the King James Version of 1611. The entire Hebrew Bible is called the "Tanach" (Kitve Kodesh, Holy Scriptures), a name formed from the initials of the Hebrew names of the three main divisions: the Law, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. The 39 books of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible were complete by 500 B.C. Christian Bibles typically group the books of the Old Testament according to the Pentateuch (the Law), the Historical Books (Joshua through Esther), the Poetical Books (Job through Song of Solomon), and the Prophetical Books (Isaiah through Malachi).

The Law (Torah or Pentateuch) covers over 1,000 years, going back to the 18th century B.C., and is regarded as the time of history from the Creation to the death of Moses, recorded in the first five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), each written on a separate scroll and saved in a jar (Pentateuch is Greek for five scroll-jars). These original manuscripts apparently did not survive, and are believed by many scholars to have been combined into the Torah and edited by scribes from various manuscripts and oral traditions in the 5th century B.C., after the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon. The Book of the Law of Moses is accounted for in Deuteronomy 28:61 (29:21, 31:9-11, 31:24-26), Joshua 1:8, 2 Kings 22:8 (2 Chronicles 34:14), Nehemiah 8:1-9, and Daniel 9:13.

The Ten Commandments were originally written by God on two stone tablets (Exodus 24:12), which he gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai around 1,400 B.C. These were broken by Moses and later remade by God and put in the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:3-5, 2 Chronicles 5:10). The Ark of the Covenant was later put in Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 35:3), where it was last accounted for in the Old Testament and has not been found to date (Jeremiah 3:16), although the Book of Revelation in the New Testament gives a vision of it appearing in the temple of God in heaven (Revelation 11:19).

The Prophets, from Joshua in the 13th century B.C. through Malachi in the 5th century B.C., contain historical events and revelations from God. The Prophets also include Judges, I & II Samuel, and I & II Kings (Earlier Prophets). Most of the original manuscripts are considered lost or destroyed, many of which may have been written by later disciples from oral accounts. Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah when he returned to Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21) after being tempted by the devil in the desert (where they both quoted Biblical scripture). He also accused the Pharisees of diligently studying the Scriptures, but not really understanding the true meaning behind them (John 5:39).

The Psalms (Hagiographa or Holy Writings) include I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, and Daniel. These works were undertaken sometime between 600 and 300 B.C., although it is disputed as to whether Job may be one of the oldest books in the Bible. Both the Psalms and the Prophets were believed to have been compiled into the Old Testament with the Torah sometime around the second century B.C. Along with other Old Testament scripture, Jesus often quoted Psalms (Matthew 21:16, 21:42, Luke 20:42-43).

The Aramaic Targums were a result of the Aramaic language of the Middle Eastern countries surrounding Israel, which the Jews learned (much from their Babylonian captivity between 500 and 600 B.C.), and then forgot their native Hebrew. The Hebrew scriptures were often read with the aid of a translator (torgeman), the translations of which were known as targums. Many of the Hebrew scriptures were written, as well as paraphrased, in Aramaic during the Jewish Babylonian captivity, the translations of which are still in use today. The Targums were often written with the original Hebrew and the Aramaic translation in side-by-side columns. The scribes of this period, known as the Sopherim, were not known for their literal translations and mistakes were made, including opinionated corrections, integrated editorials, and ommission of passages. Under Roman occupation, however, attempts were made to standardize Hebrew scripture and literal translations were undertaken in a more strict and scholarly manner.

The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures begun around 200 B.C. during Roman rule. It was undertaken as a team effort by about 70 or so Jewish scholars from Palestine, traditionally believed to have been the commission of King Ptolemy II of Egypt sometime between 300-200 B.C., whereby seventy-two scribes translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek in seventy days. It has been noted that many of the Jewish leaders of the day considered this one of the greatest tragedies in Jewish history (a corruption of the sacred Hebrew scriptures), but the Septuagint -- Latin for seventy, or LXX -- gained widespread popularity in both Jewish, and later Christian, communities. Many of the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament came from the Septuagint. Most notable of the Septuagint translations was the Hexapla by Origen of Alexandria in the third century A.D., which contained both Hebrew scripture and various Greek translations side by side.

The Apocrypha (hidden books) of the Old Testament are a collection of manuscripts and writings (cerca 300 B.C. to 100 A.D.) of questionable nature as to being divinely inspired scripture, which were excluded from the Hebrew Bible in A.D. 95 at the Synod of Jamnia (rabbinical college) in Palestine (though retained in the Septuagint). It was this school that believed all scripture after the time of Ezra the Scribe (400 B.C.) was no longer directly inspired by God, and so the Hebrew Bible was officialy canonized as the Law, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. The Apocryphal writings weren't banned, however, and the Christian churches began to advocate their study around the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. Although not included in the original Latin Vulgate (official Catholic Bible), the Apocrypha were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 405 A.D. as deutercanonical (second, or later, canon).

The Masoretic Texts were transcribed from the fifth to the twelfth centuries A.D. by Jewish scholars known as "protectors of the tradition" (masorah), or Masoretes. Masoretes held the original Hebrew texts as sacred and were careful to avoid any alterations, often including suggestions in interpretation and definition of passages as marginal notes rather than changing the meanings directly. They also added vowels and vowel indicators to many of the original Hebrew words, which used only consonants. Based on the tenth century A.D. Hebrew Bible by Moses Ben Asher, along with various English versions, the Standard English Bible for U.S. Jews was published in 1917 by the Jewish Publication Society of America. In 1963, it was revised as a more modern translation.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 near Jericho and dated between 100 B.C. and A.D. 70, pre-date the Masoretic Old Testament texts and has given current scholars something with which to compare modern translations.

The New Testament is a collection of texts accounting to the fulfillment of many of the prophecies of the Old Testament through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was put to death by the Jews under Roman rule around 30 A.D., then resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven. Many of the earliest Christian manuscripts (papyrus fragments) are Egyptian and are dated around 125 to 200 A.D. Only about 40% of the New Testament was discovered before 250 A.D. and compiled from fragments of papyrus (to date, thousands of early Christian documents have been discovered). Latin versions were commissioned by the Roman Catholic church in the second century A.D., though it wasn't until the fourth century A.D., with the widespread use of parchment, that Greek New Testaments were written in their entirety. With the invention of the printing press in the 1400's, the New Testament was widely produced and distributed for the use of educated clergy.

The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, are recorded accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ by four of his disciples, including Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the Apocrypha contain additional gospels), supposedly written about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. The first three Gospels are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because of their similarities. Note: It is debated in theological circles that Matthew and Luke were patterned after Mark, and that there is an unidentified source from which the other two Gospels derived their common points not found in Mark. This unknown source is referred to as "Q," though no document of this nature has ever been found.

The Acts are the accounts of the early Christian churches and of the leadership of Peter and the missionary work of the Apostle Paul, believed to have been written by Luke.

The Epistles are a collection of 21 letters written by Christ's disciples to the early Christian churches, including the Pauline Epistles -- 14 letters written by Paul (Saul of Tarsus) to various Christian churches and individuals -- all believed to have been written between 50 and 70 A.D Some of the dates and authors of the Epistles remain in question.

Revelation, which contains the apocalyptic revelations of Christ's second coming, is considered the last book of the New Testament, written by Christ's disciple John while in exile on the island of Patmos around 90 A.D.

The New Testament Apocrypha consisted of a collection of Christian gospels, letters, and revelations which were in circulation around the second century A.D., many of which were of questionable sources. In Christian Bibles, these became part of the collective Apocrypha of the Old and New Testaments which were not considered official scripture by most of Christianity.

The Latin Vulgate is the official Roman Catholic Bible, originally translated from the Septuagint, written in Latin, and standardized by St. Jerome in the early fourth century A.D. The Apocrypha, both Hebrew and Christian, were canonized at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and included as part of the Vulgate. Revised Roman Catholic Bibles, designed specifically to replace competing Protestant Bibles for the Catholic laity (common folk), include the Douay-Rheims Version around 1600 (revised in 1750), the Knox English Version (1945-49), the Jesuit Westminster Version of 1948, and the American Episcopal Confraternity Bible of 1941.

The Bible used in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which was mostly Greek in the beginning, also used the Septuagint for translation into Slavonic (or Old Church Slavonic) for the Russian Orthodox Church around the ninth century A.D.

The Wycliffe Bible was the first full English translation from the Vulgate in the Middle Ages, generally attributed to John Wycliffe, and finished in the fourteenth century A.D. Wycliffe believed that the Bible should be available to all in their native language, however, it was forbidden by the Catholic Church and Wycliffe was considered a heretic.

The Martin Luther Bible was not the first Protestant Bible of the Reformation that began in the early 1500's. There were several others being printed in German and other local European languages. The Reformation brought about translations from the original Hebrew and Greek rather than the Latin Vulgate.

The Tyndale Bible was the first English translation of the Protestant era, and was translated from studies of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures rather than the Latin Vulgate. Its New Testament was printed in Germany in the early 1500's, although not widely accepted and often burned because of its Protestant tone in its notes and prefaces. Its author, William Tyndale, was burned for being a heretic before he could complete the remainder in prison.

The Coverdale Bible was the first accepted English Bible under Henry VIII in the mid-1500's. Miles Coverdale basically completed Tyndale's Bible and translated the remainder of the Old Testament from the Latin Vulgate.

The Matthew's Bible of 1537 was given royal English approval. It was supposedly produced by Thomas Matthew, although it was believed to be a revised Tyndale/Coverdale Bible.

The Great Bible appeared in the majority of England's churches two years later in 1539, edited by Miles Coverdale but revised from the Matthew Bible. Two years later it was revised with an additional preface by Archbishop Cranmer and came to be known as Cranmer's Bible. This became the standard English Bible and all other translations were banned.

The Geneva Bible of 1560 was in response to the reign of Queen Mary I and the Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants in England under her rule. It was produced in Geneva, Switzerland, under the control of John Calvin. The Geneva Bible was much smaller and lighter, incorporated the numbering of scripture and included maps, summaries of Christian doctrine, prayers, and an index and glossary, making it ideal for the Protestant layman.

The Bishop's Bible, in conservative opposition to the Geneva Bible, was officiated in England in 1568 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and was a revision of the Great Bible.

The King James Version of 1611, under the rule of King James I of England, was the result of several teams of scholars under the oversight of a revision committee to combine the best of all previous English Bibles, including the Roman Catholic New Testament, into one moderate, agreeable version. For over 400 years it has been known as the Authorized Version, although no formal authorization has ever been passed by English Crown or Parliament. The Revised KJV, completed between 1881 and 1895, was intended to employ updated translation techniques and to make the language more contemporary by removing obsolete Old English terms and expressions.

The 27 books of the canonized New Testament were identified in 315 A.D. by Athenasius, bishop of Alexandria. By 500 A.D., the Bible had been translated into over 500 languages. The first Anglo-Saxon translations of the New Testament were in 995 A.D. Many modern translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version and the New American Standard Version, were composed in the last century by teams of scholars from available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts in order to create a more modern English version of the biblical texts translated from their original languages. These renditions have been meticulously scrutinized and revised for accuracy, style and original meaning by committees, organizations, consultants and societies comprising hundreds of individuals from different countries, demoninations, universities, colleges, and seminaries.

        Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)