“HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE”
Second Timothy 3.16; Second Peter 1.21
Second Timothy 3.16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
This verse, written by the apostle Paul to Timothy, declares to us the ultimate authorship of the Bible. Scripture, Paul informs Timothy and us, has been given “by inspiration of God.” This phrase translates a single Greek word, qeopneustoV, which means “God-breathed, breathed into by God, inspired.” “The rabbinical teaching was that the Spirit of God rested on and in the prophets and spoke through them so that their words did not come from themselves, but from the mouth of God, and they spoke and wrote in the Holy Spirit.” It is obvious from Second Timothy 3.16 that the Apostle Paul’s view of the authorship of the Bible was the same as the Jewish rabbis.
Second Peter 1.21: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
If Second Timothy 3.16 focuses on God as the One Who ultimately authored the Bible, Who breathed out Scripture, Second Peter 1.21 points us toward the means by which God authored the Bible, using men who were moved by, who were born along by, the Holy Spirit of God. Completely accepting these two verses at face value, recognizing that the Bible is God’s book given to us by the precise means described in these two verses, allow me to describe to you how God accomplished what is described in Second Timothy 3.16 and Second Peter 1.21.
There are three portions of the Bible that need to be treated separately before the Bible can be brought together as a unified whole to answer the question, How did we get the Bible?
The question is . . . exactly who were the “holy men” who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the marvelous words of the Book of Genesis? Genesis is considered to be the first book of the Pentateuch (the others being Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and all of them together taken as the Law (Hebrew, torah) of Moses. This general view was apparently accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. I read Luke 24.27 & 44: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. . . . These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
Assuming that Moses was responsible for the Book of Genesis as it has come down to us, there still remains the question as to the method by which he received and transmitted it. It . . . is significant that, although the Book of Genesis is quoted from or alluded to at least two hundred times in the New Testament . . . in none of these references is it ever stated that Moses was the actual author. This is especially significant in view of the fact that Moses is mentioned by name at least eighty times in the New Testament, approximately twenty-five of which refer to specific passages attributed to Moses in the other books of the Pentateuch.
While this evidence is not conclusive, it does favor the explanation that, while Moses actually wrote the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, he served mainly as compiler and editor of the material in the Book of Genesis. It is suggested . . . therefore, that Moses compiled and edited earlier written records that had been handed down from father to son via the line of the patriarchs listed in Genesis. That is, Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, and others each wrote down an individual account of events which had occurred in his own lifetime, or concerning which he in some way had direct knowledge. These records were kept, possibly on tablets of stone, in such a way that they would be preserved until they finally came into Moses’ possession. He then selected those that were relevant to his own purpose (as guided by the Holy Spirit), added his own explanatory editorial comments and transitional sections, and finally compiled them into the form now known as the Book of Genesis.
It is probable that these original documents can still be recognized by the key phrase: “These are the generations of. . . .” The word “generation” is a translation of the Hebrew toledoth, and it means essentially “origins,” or, by extension, “records of the origins.” There are eleven of these divisions marked off in Genesis:
(1) “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth” (Genesis 2:4).
(2) “This is the book of the generations of Adam (Genesis 5:1).
(3) “These are the generations of Noah” (Genesis 6:9).
(4) “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 10:1).
(5) “These are the generations of Shem” (Genesis 11:10).
(6) “Now these are the generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27).
(7) “Now these are the generations of Ishmael” (Genesis 25:12).
(8) “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son” (Genesis 25:19).
(9) “Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom” (Genesis 36:1).
(10) “And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir” (Genesis 36:9).
(11) “These are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2).
Thus it is probable that the Book of Genesis was written originally by actual eyewitnesses of the events reported therein. Probably the original narratives were recorded on tables of stone or clay, in common with the practice of early times, and then handed down from father to son, finally coming into the possession of Moses. Moses perhaps selected the appropriate sections for compilation, inserted his own editorial additions and comments, and provided smooth transitions from one document to the next, with the final result being the Book of Genesis as we have received it.
Although this theory of the authorship of Genesis cannot be rigidly proved, it does seem to fit all available facts better than any other theory. It is consistent with the doctrine of Biblical inspiration and authority, as well as with the accurate historicity of its records. Furthermore, this approach provides vivid insight into the accounts, and a more vibrant awareness of their freshness and relevance, than any other theory advanced by conservative scholars.
WITH MOSES PRODUCING THE BOOK OF GENESIS IN ITS PRESENT FORM, WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT?
You realize, of course, that there exist today no originals of any of the books of the Bible. An original document is called an autograph, with no autographs of Old Testament books of the Bible, or of New Testament books, for that matter, existing. This is because, during Moses’ day and for many centuries later, writing had progressed from scratching on rocks with a stylus, and imprinting moist clay tablets with cuneiform, and painting figures on stone with hieroglyphics, to more portable materials.
While in China writing was done on narrow strips of wood that were then tied together, end to end, in the middle east papyrus had been invented, with papyrus being the name of a roll of material, usually 20 to 35 feet long, that was processed from papyrus plants. Papyrus was used to write on until around the third century after Christ. As you can imagine, something made from that type of material would deteriorate and disintegrate with the passage of time, requiring the faithful reproduction of copies for the people of God.
How, then, did the originals of the Old Testament come to be written on papyrus? Within the framework of the Mosaic system there existed three anointed offices, that of the prophet, that of the priest, and that of the king. Though there were several men down through the centuries who combined two of these offices, (David being a prophet/king and Ezra being a prophet/priest, to name two), only Israel’s Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, would be prophet, priest and king. While not all prophets in the kingdom of Israel, and after the division of the nation not all prophets in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judea, were what would be called writing prophets, no part of the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures was written by anyone who was not recognized by the people to be a prophet of God. To state another way, Elijah and Elisha were prophets who did not write scripture, but everyone who did write a portion of the Hebrew Scriptures was a prophet of God.
Being a recognized prophet of God (and that subject is a whole other sermon itself), what the prophet wrote was then immediately accepted by the Jewish people and incorporated into the Old Testament. This resulted, by the time of Malachi about 400 years before Christ, in the Hebrew Scriptures that we have today, the Law (being the first five books of the Bible, called by Jews the Torah), the prophets, and the writings, with the books in the Hebrew Scriptures divided and arranged somewhat differently than in the Christian Bible, but with the exact same content as we find in our Old Testament.
With the Babylonian captivity and the dispersion of the Jewish institutions into foreign lands, some six centuries before Christ, Temple worship and the priesthood was thoroughly disrupted, but the Jewish people quickly adapted and created a more decentralized type of worship with the appearance of synagogues, that survives to this day. You may remember me once quoting Bernard Ramm, writing about the accuracy and number of biblical manuscripts, who commented, “Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. . . They kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity—scribes, lawyers, massoretes. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?”
The Jews so highly esteemed their Scriptures that whenever one of the words referring to God was to be copied the writing instrument was to be discarded for a new one. And when the very name of God was to be written, the scribe went home to wash himself before writing the name of God with a new quill. This helps to explain why, when the Qumran documents were discovered, it was found that the Isaiah scroll that was recovered was virtually identical to the present day book of Isaiah in Hebrew, with only minor variations due to changes in the Hebrew alphabet and slight alterations in the spelling of some words over the last 2000+ years.
So, books of the Old Testament were written on papyrus originals by prophets of God, immediately incorporated into their canon of Scripture, and meticulously copied to make the Scriptures available to priests and later to rabbis to study and from which to teach the people. Copying from papyrus to papyrus continued for several centuries after Christ.
It is interesting to note that the first divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures were actually made before the Babylonian captivity in 586 B. C., with the first five books of the Bible divided into 154 groupings, called sedarim. During the Babylonian captivity the Pentateuch was once again divided into 54 sections, and then re-divided into 669 sections for reference purposes. Around 165 B. C. that portion of the Old Testament they referred to as the Prophets were sectioned. Finally, “after the Protestant Reformation, the Hebrew Bible for the most part followed the same chapter divisions as the Protestant Old Testament. These divisions were first placed into the margins in 1330.”
DID THE NEW TESTAMENT COME TO US THE SAME WAY THE OLD TESTAMENT DID?
The New Testament did not come to us in the same fashion the Old Testament did, for reasons that I think you will readily appreciate. Whereas the Old Testament came through a people, who existed as a national entity for most of the time the Old Testament was being written and copied, and then as a people who always had a national identity, such was not the case with the New Testament.
When Paul informed the Romans that to the Jews “were committed the oracles of God,” Romans 3.2, I am of the opinion that it was not only the Old Testament Scriptures that God gave through Jewish prophets, but that the New Testament Scriptures were given through apostles who happened to be Jewish Christians. But though such men as John and Paul and Luke and Peter and Mark and Jude were Jews, they were Jewish Christians, apostles, whose calling and ministry took place entirely outside the framework and institutional structures of Judaism. They ministered within the framework of the institution of the Church, and their inspired writings targeted, not a nation, but Christians and congregations comprised of believers from every nation, kindred, tongue and tribe. Thus, when Paul wrote an inspired letter, or when Luke wrote an inspired Gospel or history, those to whom it was originally sent or intended immediately set out to make many, many copies for wide distribution. And this was somewhat easier to do with New Testament Gospels and letters because they are much shorter in length than are many of the books of the Old Testament. Of course, the originals, the autographs, as well as their copies, would be on papyrus just like the Old Testament scrolls were at that same time.
The Greeks first made paragraph divisions in the New Testament as early as 250 A. D. The oldest chapter divisions of the New Testament date from about 350 A. D. But divisions in those days were much smaller than the present chapter divisions in the Bible, with one ancient copy of Matthew being divided into 170 sections. It was not until the 13th century that those sections were changed, and then only gradually. Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris and later the Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible into the modern chapter divisions, numbering about 1227 in the whole Bible. Verse markings came several centuries later, with a printer in Paris, named Robert Stephanus, giving us our verse divisions in 1551 in a Greek New Testament he printed. Within four years the Latin Vulgate had chapter and verse divisions, and they were here to stay, even finding their way into the Hebrew Scriptures of the Jews.
Along about the 4th century A. D. papyrus gave way to parchment as the favored material on which the Bible was copied, both by Christian copyists and their Jewish counterparts. Parchment, being prepared from various animal skins, proved to be both very durable and quite expensive. After some number of centuries, parchment gave way to vellum, which is made from calf skin, and then to paper. During the passage of time the form of the Bible also changed, from scrolls to book form. Though the material on which the Bible was written changed, once the Bible was complete its content did not change. How do we know the content of the Bible did not change? After all, who doesn’t know someone who claims that the Bible today bears no resemblance to the Bible of 2000 years ago? Despite the occasional know-it-all who makes such unfounded claims, they are rather easily refuted.
As I briefly mentioned before, the very method by which the Jews copied and reproduced the Old Testament, their great caution and care reflecting their understanding that they were copying the very Word of God, guaranteed that faithful copies were produced. And they had tests that they employed to verify accuracy. Start at each end and count the number of words until you reached a certain number, and if the count from the front and the count from the back did not place you on the same word the entire copy would be destroyed. That approach to copying, and the ancient Dead Sea scrolls that are virtually identical to modern versions used today, show that the Old Testament has come down to us a reliable representation of the originals.
Faithfulness to the originals in the New Testament has been achieved in a different way. Did you know that there are almost 25,000 manuscripts of the Bible wholly or partially preserved from ancient times? And those manuscripts do not have to be complete or error-free for us to have a reliable New Testament. On the back of your bulletin I have provided for you an example that shows how we know we have the New Testament as it was written 2000 years ago, without having a single copy of the original. Not even considering the unseen hand of God in His providence to superintend the accurate copying of His Word, notice how it is possible for large numbers of manuscripts to ensure that we have a reliable New Testament.
Suppose each line of text on the back of your bulletin represents a different manuscript, with no single manuscript being without some kind of flaw. If each manuscript is compared with the others, it is possible to faithfully reproduce the original, so that, as I said last week, “. . . the text of every verse in the New Testament may be said to be so far settled by general consent of scholars, that any dispute as to its readings must relate rather to the interpretation of the words than to any doubts respecting the words themselves.” To put this into the plain language of ordinary people, scholars who study such things are unanimous in their agreement, except for the odd dissident, that every verse in the New Testament is a faithful and accurate copy of the original.
Therefore, though the New Testament came to us by a different path than did the Old Testament, it did come to us. About that there should be no doubt whatsoever.
What can we conclude from our consideration of the question of how we got the Bible? There are several lessons for us. First, make sure that you understand that the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible are not a part of the inspired text. With so many different arrangements of chapters and verses down through the centuries, each being different than the one before, it needs to be recognized that chapter and verse divisions are man-made devices that exist for the sole purpose of locating passages in the text. Chapter and verse divisions should not, therefore, be used as a tool to interpret any portion of God’s Word. Second, we do not have the originals of God’s Word, for what I believe are two valid reasons: First, anything written on papyrus is not going to last thousands of years under normal circumstances of use and environment. Those ancient manuscripts that have survived to this day have survived because, a) they were not being used by anyone, and b) they were isolated in an extremely dry climate. These are the reasons why such documents are always found in Egypt or Israel, tucked away in some cave or ancient monastery.
As well, I do not believe God allowed the originals to be preserved because of man’s tendency toward idolatry. Look at the pathetic display some Roman Catholics put on whenever they are around something a few centuries old. They venerate bones and other relics. Imagine what they would have done with an original manuscript of God’s Word. Far better to read and study and obey a copy of God’s Word than to bow and scrape before some old manuscript of the Bible, while ignoring the content of its message.
Though I have intentionally avoided some of the precision and technical language used by those who are experts in this field, and though I have passed over other issues altogether, this is how we got the Bible you hold in your hand.