How Did We Get the Bible
How did we get the Bible?
How did the Bible become compiled as one book and receive its name and who authorized its translation ?
The books of the Bible are said to be in the “canon” of the Bible. This simply means that over time, scholars have come to accept certain books as authentic, inspired books that contain the Word of God, while rejecting other books as uninspired.
There are several books that people have tried to move into the biblical canon that never made it. For example, the “Gospel of Thomas” claims to be an inspired book about the childhood of Jesus. However, when this book is compared with the four Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the “Gospel of Thomas” is clearly inferior.
The books that we have in the Old Testament today were accepted by the Jews as inspired before Jesus came to the earth. These scriptures were extremely important to the Jews (and us) even after the New Testament church was established. As the canon of the New Testament was established, the Bible came to include all of the books that we have in it today.
Establishing the canon of the Bible involves careful comparisons of text that we know were written by inspired men (the letters of Paul, the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts, both written by Luke who accompanied Paul on his journeys) to text that may or may not have been written by inspired men.
For example, we do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews. However, we can compare the teachings of the book of Hebrews to other texts that we know were inspired (the writings of Paul, for example). If, like the “Gospel of Thomas”, Hebrews were not able to withstand this kind of scrutiny, it would not be included in the canon.
The oldest copies of the Old Testament that we have were written in Aramaic and Hebrew. Before Christ was born, the Greeks translated the Old Testament into the Greek language. That translation is called the Septuagint.
Several translations of the Old Testament that we use today were translated from copies of the Aramaic and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament and the Septuagint. The Dead Sea Scrolls, copies of portions of the Old Testament which were written hundreds of years before Christ was born, validate the Old Testament translations that we use today because they (our current versions) are virtually identical to the text contained in the Scrolls.
The New Testament has a similar history. There are many copies of the New Testament that date to the 4th century AD and earlier. Although we have no original manuscripts of the New Testament writings, the early Christians were careful to maintain copies of the letters that were written by the inspired men of God. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament canon includes only the books that have withstood all challenges to their authenticity and inspiration.
The Bible has been translated into English from the original Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek several times in the last several hundred years. Some translations are more accurate than others.
What is the origin, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible? How did our present English text come into being from Hebrew and Greek?
There are two principle sources of evidence that the Bible is the Divinely inspired Word of God:
- The Testimony of Jesus Christ
2. Why Should We Believe Jesus Christ?
- The Testimony of Jesus Christ
Christ is the key to it all. And it is appropriate that we base our faith on Christ, because He is our ultimate authority in all things:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
As Jesus has all power (all authority), why should He not be our authority here?
We know that the Bible is authentic because He quoted from it. Remember when He kept saying “It is written …” when He was tempted in the wilderness? It is that, and His many other references.
Consider that at the time of Jesus the Jews regarded what we call the Old Testament in three parts:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Joshua, Judges I, Samuel II, Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Psalms, Proverbs, Job Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, I Chronicles, II Chronicles
Jesus quoted from and referred to the Old Testament scriptures in His teaching, and He considered them authentic.
Here are some Old Testament References by Jesus:
Use the Bible Search window and check these out. See if Jesus did not refer to these passages as if everybody knows that they are authentic.
Matthew 4:4 Man shall not live by Bread Alone Deuteronomy 8:3
Matthew 4:7 Thou shall Not Tempt God Deuteronomy 6:16
Matthew 4:10 Worship God Deuteronomy 10:20
Matthew 5:27 On Adultery Exodus 20:14
Matthew 5:33 Thou shall Not Swear Numbers 30:2
Matthew 5:38 An Eye for an Eye Leviticus 24:19-20
Luke 11:51 Abel Genesis 4
Luke 17:26-29 Noah, Lot & Sodom Genesis 7 & 19
Matthew 12:3 Hungry David I Samuel 21:6
Matthew 12:7 Mercy vs. Sacrifice Hosea 6:6
Matthew 12:38-40 Sign of Jonah Jonah 1:17
Luke 19:46 Den of Thieves Isaiah 56:7 & Jeremiah 7:11
Matthew 13:13-14 Hearing not Hear Isaiah 6:9-10
Matthew 22:41-45 David’s Lord Psalms 110:1
Mark 12:10 Chief Cornerstone Psalms 118:22
Luke 11:51 Zechariah II Chronicles 24:20-21
The Law and the Prophets
Matthew 5:17 Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law & Prophets
Matthew 7:12 Golden Rule — this is the Law & Prophets
Matthew 22:40 On the Two Greatest Commandments hang the Law & Prophets
Luke 16:16 Law & Prophets Were Until John
Luke 24:44 Christ Fulfilled all the Law & Prophets
- Why Should We Believe Jesus Christ?
Everyone believes that Jesus Christ was a good person. No one back then could convict Him of sin, try as they did. The only thing resembling sin which they could pin on Him was His claim to be Deity. Blasphemy is an extremely serious sin. But, since He was (is) Deity, then it cannot be sinful for Him to claim it!
Jesus claimed to be Deity. Now if He was not Deity, then He lied. If He is a liar (and lying about claiming to be Deity would be a large size lie), then He could not be a “good person.” Which all are in agreement that He was!
What evidence do we have to support our belief in the words of Jesus Christ? Many. Let’s look at just a few.
There are more than 300 prophecies fulfilled in the life of Christ. Micah 5:2 spoke of Bethlehem. Matthew 2:5 referred back to this prophecy of Micah. And the Jews at that time (see context of Matthew 2:5) understood the passage to be a prophecy of where the Messiah was to be born!
The study of the fulfillment of prophecy in the life of Christ is a very rewarding study.
The End He Proposed
The Jews were looking for a Messiah to deliver them. They had seen the many prophecies and other references in the Old Testament. But they were looking for an earthly kingdom. Jesus was that Messiah. It would have been so easy for Him to accept the crown as king on earth. Because that was what the people wanted.
But He did not do it that way. He chose the way of perishing to accomplish His mission. He gave His life freely. Look at the accounts of His crucifixion, and it is striking how He so willingly gave His life, without resisting.
There is no way that He could gain anything by His death. Unless, of course, His death was Divinely appointed by His Divine Father!
The Testimony of His Father
The Hebrew writer, in warning us to not miss the boat, mentions that God provided signs and wonders (miracles) so that we would believe that Jesus Christ is Divine.
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Nobody could disprove His miracles, then or now. There were just too many witnesses for Jesus’ miracles to be a fraud. The only other possibility, then, is that Jesus Christ was, and is, God.
The greatest of Jesus’ miracles, He did not even do Himself, but God did for Him. That is His resurrection from the dead.
No one could disprove it back then. And they had the most powerful reason to disprove it if at all possible. He was cramping the style of the local leaders, and making their life difficult. But they could not disprove it.
All of historical writings through the centuries confirm the fact of the resurrection. Eyewitness accounts and evidence in the Holy Scriptures that substantiate the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
The Changed Apostles and other Christians
One of the greatest testimonies to the truth of the resurrection is the change in the life of the apostles. They were hicks from the sticks, and yet they turned the world upside down with their teaching and testimony. And for what earthly reason? None whatsoever. What was the effect on their lives?
They lost everything, they lived in poverty, they died horrible deaths in torture (all except John, who died a natural death). And why would they do all that, if it was not for the fact that they could see a greater, eternal reward. They had seen the resurrected Christ, and He changed their lives.
As He promised them in John Chapters 14 through 16, He sent the Holy Spirit to teach them all things. Right after Christ was crucified, they were scattered and confused. But shortly after the church was established on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two, they got their act together and “turned the world upside down” with their teaching about the risen Christ.
How could all this have happened at all if it were not for the fact that Christ was (is) Deity, and He was actually raised from the dead?
There is only one logical answer: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead; He is the Son of God; and The Bible is a Special Divine Revelation. The evidence sustains the proposition that the Bible is divinely inspired. It is more rational to believe than to disbelieve.
OK, But How Do We Know The Writings Were Not Changed?
There are many today who are under the impression that the Bibles we have today are not true to the original documents. Moreover, there are some who still think that the various books of the Bible were not written when the books themselves claim to have been written. Some folks think that the Gospels, for instance, were not eyewitness accounts as they claim to be, but are rather mythical accounts written much later in order to establish the Christians’ doctrine. In pursuing this type of question, we are not trying to establish whether the Bible is inspired, but whether it is authentic: whether the text is true to the original, and whether the original books were written when they claim to have been. In this article, we will look at some of the evidence, which can help us to answer this type of question.
In order to understand the evidence for the Bible, it is necessary to have a little background. First, we know that the Bible is a collection of 66 books written over a span of some centuries by approximately 40 different authors. These books are divided into two main sections, which we call the Old and New Testaments. There is a span of hundreds of years between the writing of the last Old Testament book, and the first New Testament book. The scholars who study the questions surrounding the Bible’s authenticity apply to it the very same tests they apply to all ancient documents (although they tend to apply them a little more rigorously to a book which claims to be inspired by God.)
These tests cover a variety of subjects, including both internal and external evidence. Internal evidence is what can be determined by looking within the pages of the books themselves: we have looked at some of this in past issues. External evidence includes archaeological and scientific evidence, historical and cultural evidence, and manuscript evidence. A manuscript is a document written by hand. For our current purposes, a manuscript is a document written before the advent of the printing press (ca. 1450 AD). Because of the circumstances of the writing of the Bible, the study of the manuscript evidence is generally divided into two separate areas, one for each Testament. In the interest of space, we will look at some of the evidence for the New Testament only.
First, it is interesting to note that the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament still in existence date much closer to the time of authorship than is the case with other ancient books. The earliest manuscripts of Herodotus’ writings, for example, date approximately 1300 years after his death; and this is not unusual in ancient books. By contrast, there is a fragment of the Gospel of John in the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, England, which is dated ca. 125 AD. Since scholars generally agree that John wrote his Gospel at a later date (between 60-90 AD) than the other three Gospel writers, this fragment is especially significant. Moreover, there is a fragment of the Gospel of Matthew found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from before 68 AD: less than 35 years after Jesus’ death! In addition to these, there are manuscripts containing the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and most of the Epistles of Paul, dated ca. 200 AD. There are manuscripts of all four Gospels, as well as other New Testament books, from the 200’s AD. And in the British Library’s manuscript room is the manuscript called Sinaiticus, which is dated ca. 350 AD, and which contains the entire New Testament. In short, the manuscript evidence points to the conclusion that the New Testament was written when it claims to have been written: between ca. 50 – 100 AD.
But the dates of the various manuscripts are not the only important factor. The sheer quantity of them is nothing short of impressive. The earliest New Testament manuscripts were written on papyrus, which is relatively fragile and subject to decay, not unlike paper. If you have seen a newspaper clipping from as recently as the 1960’s, you will see it shows signs of deterioration after only 30 years. With this in mind, it is a wonder that any of the early papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament have survived a span of 1500 years or more. In fact, there are over 80 such manuscripts. And these are only the beginning. In the fourth century AD, parchment replaced papyrus as the primary medium for copies of the Bible. There are nearly 3000 parchment manuscripts of the Greek New Testament dating from the fourth century through the fifteenth century, when the printing press took over. By contrast, we only have one manuscript copy of the Annals of Tacitus, who lived ca. 55 – 120 AD: the very same era as the New Testament writings.
Most of the evidence focuses on the manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek, which is the language in which it was originally written. In addition to the Greek, there are also large quantities of manuscripts that are versions, or translations into other languages. The mere fact that the New Testament was translated at all is impressive when one considers that it was very unusual to translate a book in ancient times. And the New Testament was not translated only once, nor was it long after the writing that translations began to appear. The Bible was translated independently into both Latin and Syriac—somewhere ca. 100 – 150 AD. It was translated into Coptic (an Egyptian dialect) in the 200’s, Armenian and Gothic in the 300’s, Georgian in the 400’s, etc. In all, there are over 5000 manuscripts of the New Testament still in existence. With such a huge number of manuscripts, it is inevitable that variations would arise among them. The question that remains, then, is the extent and significance of these variations. In order to answer this question, we will first consider some more facts regarding the versions.
Each of the translations, of course, began a new tradition. For example, when making copies of the Bible in Armenian, the copyist would not generally have access to the Greek manuscript from which the original translation was made. So, he would have to copy directly from the Armenian translation itself. And likewise in making later revisions of the translation: the revisers would have to go by the existing Armenian, along with whatever Greek editions they had available to them; but they would not have access to the manuscript from which the translation was originally made. And this is so with each of the languages into which the Bible was translated. Thus, when looking at the accompanying chart, keep in mind that each of the vertical lines represents a separate line of transmittal. In determining the accuracy of the text, then, the modern scholars can compare copies of the New Testament in a number of different languages, representing different cultures and different religious points of view.
When we consider the great differences between the various cultures represented by the ancient translations, and the large number of variant doctrines existing in the religions of those cultures, we would expect there to be tremendous differences in the Biblical texts. But that is not the case. On the contrary, even with the enormous number of manuscripts, and the diversity of languages, approximately 85% of the New Testament text is not even questioned: in other words, there is no disagreement between the manuscripts for this portion of the text. As to the 15% for which variant readings exist among the manuscripts, most of the variant readings are easily recognized as false, simply because of the overwhelming manuscript evidence against them. As for the tiny portion that remains, most of the variant readings which are not easily dismissed as unauthentic, are so insignificant that they do not substantially change the meaning of the passages in which they occur. Many competent scholarly references are available.
In conclusion, we may note that the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is truly overwhelming. If we approach the subject objectively, we must admit that all of the manuscript evidence points to the genuineness and authenticity of the books. They were written when they claim to have been written, and by whom they claim to have been written. Moreover, the text we have today is true to the original documents. Any claim, then, that “the Bible has been changed”, or that “the Gospels were written generations after the fact”, is demonstrably false. Consequently, any argument or doctrine built upon such a claim necessarily falls apart. Whenever we pick up a literal translation of the Bible, we have in our hands a substantially accurate rendition of some authentic – and very important – ancient documents.
The following material was taken from individual prefaces to each book in the Open Bible by Thomas Nelson and a variety of other sources:
|Book||Author||Place of Writing||Time|
|Joshua||Joshua||Canaan||1405 -1390 BC|
|Judges||Samuel (?)||Palestine||1043 -1004 BC|
|Ruth||Samuel (?)||Palestine||1043 -1004 BC|
|I Samuel||Samuel (?)||Israel||1015 BC|
|II Samuel||Nathan & Gad (?)||Israel||931 BC|
|I Kings||Jeremiah (?)||Israel||646 – 570 BC|
|II Kings||Jeremiah (?)||Israel||586 BC|
|I Chronicles||Ezra (?)||Judah||450-430 BC|
|II Chronicles||Ezra (?)||Judah||450-430 BC|
|Esther||Mordecai (?)||Persia||483-473 BC|
|Psalms||David & others||Judah||1410-430 BC|
|Proverbs||Solomon & others||Judah||950-700 BC|
|Song of Solomon||Solomon||Jerusalem||965 BC|
|Matthew||Matthew||Syria or Palestine||58-68 AD|
|Luke||Luke||Rome or Greece||60-68 AD|
|Acts||Luke||Rome or Greece||62 AD|
|I Corinthians||Paul||Ephesus||56 AD|
|II Corinthians||Paul||Macedonia||56 AD|
|Galatians||Paul||Syrian Antioch||49 AD|
|I Thessalonians||Paul||Corinth||51 AD|
|II Thessalonians||Paul||Corinth||51 AD|
|I Timothy||Paul||Macedonia||62-63 AD|
|II Timothy||Paul||Rome||67 AD|
|Hebrews||Maybe Paul||Unknown||64-68 AD|
|I Peter||Peter||Rome or Babylon||63-64 AD|
|II Peter||Peter||Rome||64-66 AD|
|I John||John||Ephesus||85-90 AD|
|II John||John||Ephesus||85-90 AD|
|III John||John||Ephesus||85-90 AD|
|Revelation||John||Patmos or Ephesus||68-95 AD|