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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Words of the Bible

Don Stewart :: Upon What Materials Were the Books of the Bible Originally Written?

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Upon What Materials Were the Books of the Bible Originally Written?

The Words of the Bible – Question 6

During its history, the books of the Bible were written upon a number of different surfaces. There is evidence from the writings of the Bible with respect to what surfaces it was written upon. They include the following:

1. Stone

One of the most ancient of all writing surfaces was stone. Job mused:

Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! (Job 19:23-24 NIV)

We also read that the Ten Commandments were written upon stone tablets. The Book of Exodus says the following:

One day the LORD said to Moses, “Cut two flat stones like the first ones I made, and I will write on them the same commandments that were on the two you broke.” (Exodus 34:1 CEV)

Therefore, we have a couple of instances where Scripture speaks of engraving or writing something in stone.

2. Wooden Tablets

Some of the notes made by the prophets Habakkuk and Isaiah were perhaps written upon wooden tablets. We read the following:

The LORD answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it. (Habakkuk 2:2 HCSB)

Isaiah also spoke writing on a tablet. He wrote:

Now, write this on a tablet for them, and inscribe it in a book so that it will be there in the future as a permanent witness. (Isaiah 30:8 God’s Word)

Thus we have biblical evidence that tablets were also used to record Scripture.

3. Clay Tablets

Clay tablets were popular in the ancient Middle East for the straight lines of cuneiform script. However, they were not as adaptable to the Hebrew script with its curved lines. It is possible that some of the early books of the Bible, including possible sources for the Book of Genesis, were written upon clay tablets.

The above materials would only have been suitable for texts of short length. The writing of the biblical books probably employed other surfaces.

4. Papyrus

Papyrus is one of the most ancient writing materials known to humans. It was used in Egypt three thousand years before the time of Christ. This surface was made from the papyrus plant which grew in swampy areas in the delta of the Nile River. Papyrus is referred to in the Bible. We read the following in the Book of Job:

“Can papyrus grow up where there is no swamp? Can rushes grow tall without water?” (Job 8:11 God’s Word)

Actually, the English word, “Bible” is derived from the word byblos which is a word for papyrus.

5. Leather

Another surface used was leather. Leather scrolls had the advantage over papyrus in that they did not wear out as quickly. Of all the ancient materials used for writing, only papyrus and leather were capable of being adapted to a scroll format.

6. Animal Skins (Parchment)

The skins of animals were also used to receive writing in the ancient world. This is known as parchment or vellum. Parchment was the main surface used for books from the fourth century A.D. until the Middle Ages.

7. Paper and the Printing Press

Paper began to come into use during the Middle Ages. It had been invented in the first century A.D. in China and the knowledge of its manufacture came to Europe during the eighth century.

Finally, with the invention of the printing press, the Scriptures were mass-produced.

This briefly sums up the various materials upon which the books of Scripture were originally written.

Summary – Question 6
Upon What Materials Were the Books of the Bible Originally Written?

The books of Scripture were written on a number of different surfaces. These include stone, wooden tablets, clay tablets, skins of animals (parchment), papyrus, leather and paper. Finally they were able to be mass-produced with the printing press.

What Is the Earliest Part of the Old Testament That Still Exists? What Is the Earliest New Testament Manuscript That Still Exists? ← Prior Section
In What Form Were the Biblical Books Originally Written? Next Section →
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