WHERE DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT COME FROM?

hebrew-Scroll-Torah

If you’ve ever wondered where the bible came from and why it is considered reliable, here’s a good place to start. Since we recently talked about the New Testament, this is a mid-week re-post about the origins of the Jewish/Christian Old Testament.

Last week we considered the Bible from a non-spiritual standpoint, evaluating it as if it were merely a system that was developed to guide human behavior (that is, a “moral” system). We found that objectively, the Bible offers a superior guide to human behavior than other “holy books” and one that is much superior to any “individual morality” that individuals choose for themselves. This week I want to dig more deeply into the origins of the Bible. This will help us to evaluate spurious claims like those of the “DaVinci Code” and the “Judas gospels” (which were touted by National Geographic last year). For now, we’ll just consider the Old Testament. We will tackle the New Testament later in the series.

Several early portions of the Old Testament were originally recited orally and passed down from generation to generation through memorization and repetition. Most of Genesis, as well as probably Ruth and Judges were all originally spoken, rather than written. How do we know this? Well, the first portions of Genesis, if accurate at all, took place before reading and writing was widespread. But even more than that, examining the Bible texts in Hebrew (which was the original language) shows several easily recognized mnemonic devices (that is, verbal cues used to help people memorize a recitation). One way to picture it this: those texts which were originally recited orally, look (at least in Hebrew) more like a play than a novel. Usually, these little memory points are lost in translation to English, but one passage in which the NIV has preserved them fairly well is Genesis 5:1-31. There are seven small sections in these verses. Each section begins with “When [somebody’s name] had lived [a number] of years…” and then some details about that person and his descendants. The section closes with “and then he died.”

If this is the first time you have heard of that, this may make you a bit uncertain about how reliable those portions of scripture could be. This is because our culture has mostly lost the art and practice of memorization. But the fact is, there used to be professional oral historians. These were people who were responsible to memorize the oral histories, word for word and teach them to the next generation. Not only that, but in the case of the Hebrew people and the Old Testament, every father had a duty to teach the spiritual history to his children. People are capable of remembering a great deal. The philosopher Socrates, who lived almost a thousand years after the time of Moses, lamented the fact that during his lifetime the Greeks started writing things down in books. He felt that if books came into widespread use, people would stop remembering things, because they would be able to simply look them up in a book. He felt memorization was a much superior way to preserve knowledge for future generations.

Even in the twentieth century, Michail Gorbachev memorized the entire text of all four gospels when he was a child. We remember more, and better, than we realize. If you have seen the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” I bet you can fill in this blank: “I’m not quite ______ yet.” If you have seen the movie “The Princess Bride” I bet you know the special phrase that Wesley says to Princess Buttercup. It has three words. These are things we memorize – word for word – without even trying. How much more are people capable of in a culture where oral history is valued and practiced!

Aside from the oral histories, other parts of the Old Testament were written down, more or less at the time the events occurred or the words were spoken. The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch; they are also known by Jews as the “Torah,” or “Law.” Over time the Torah, and the writings of the scribes and prophets were compiled into what today we call the Old Testament. We don’t know the exact date at which the Old Testament was considered to be “closed,” but it is probably around 250 B.C.E, which is the approximate date most scholars agree that the Old Testament was first translated into Greek (the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint). We don’t have any original copies of the Old Testament. Professional scribes carefully copied the originals when they became worn, and then destroyed the originals. When the copies became worn, new copies were made and the older copies destroyed. For many years, the oldest copy that had been found was made in the 800s A.D. — much newer, in fact, than many New Testament manuscripts. Because of this, many scholars assumed that if the Old Testament manuscript copies were compared to the originals, there would be many errors. However, it should be noted that later manuscripts agree very closely with these earliest texts, which shows that the scribes took great care when making copies. In 1947, the “Dead Sea Scrolls” were discovered. These are not all Biblical writings, but among them are parts of the Old Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to 1000 years before those previous Old Testament manuscripts. As it turns out, at least in the texts that are available for comparison, during those thousand years very few copying errors were made, and none were significant. Again it is an example of how carefully the Old Testament was preserved by the scribes. I have personally seen a scroll of Isaiah that was made in about 1400 AD and used in a synagogue in Germany for 400 years — until the mid-1800s, when it was taken out of use. It looked cleaner, clearer and more pristine than these sermon notes. Taken all in all, it has been demonstrated thoroughly that the contents of the Old Testament have been preserved, largely unchanged, from when they originated.

Now, in spite of these well-preserved texts, there is a prevalent and long-standing tendency to discount the Old Testament as “religious writing” and therefore inaccurate. For many decades the trendy thing was to doubt everything the Bible said – even the “normal, historical” parts of it – unless it could be confirmed by some sort of archaeological discovery. For instance, until very recently, Skeptical scholars claimed that king David of Israel was a mythical figure who had been made up by the writers of the Bible. Unfortunately for them, archaeologists discovered a reference to David in the writings of another culture in the middle east. The reference to David matched the approximate time period that the Bible puts him in.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah writes about the invasion of the Assyrian army. He describes how they laid siege to the town of Lacish, and then how they came and surrounded Jerusalem. He mentioned Sennacherib, the Assyrian emperor at the time. Over where Assyria used to be, they have uncovered some of the records and court commissioned art from the time of Sennacherib. We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Assyrians recorded some of the same events, and even mentioned the name of Hezekiah, King of Judah at the time, according to the Bible.

According to the Old Testament, the Israelites destroyed the town of Jericho in about 1400 BCE. According to archaeologists, Jericho was indeed destroyed about 1400 BCE. There is not enough time and space to describe all of the archaeological discoveries which have, over and over, proven that the Bible is a reliable historical source. The people it talks about were real people; the situations it describes were real. The history it records really happened. The texts were truly written or memorized when the events they record were actually happening.

Millar Burrows, a PhD graduate of Yale University, and one of the leading authorities on the Dead Sea Scrolls, said this:

The Bible is supported by archaeological evidence again and again. On the whole, there can be no question that the results of excavation have increased the respect of scholars for the Bible as a collection of historical documents. The confirmation is both general and specific. The fact that the record can be soften explained or illustrated by archaeological data shows that if fits into the framework of history as only a genuine product of ancient life could do. In addition to this general authentication, however, we find the record verified repeatedly as specific points. Name of places and persons turn up at the right places and in the right periods.

What is strange is that some people persist in doubting the Bible until is proven by some non-Biblical source. The truth is, there is no non-biblical source that has been so thoroughly verified as the Bible itself. It is, without question, the best documentary record of life and history in the ancient middle east.

It seems to me that people are inclined to doubt the Bible because, in addition to history, the bible contains records of supernatural activity. It doesn’t just talk about kings and wars – it also talks about miracles, healings and God’s standards. It’s commonly thought that people who believe in miracles do so because their faith-system requires them to, while people who don’t believe in miracles are merely looking at the evidence. But in fact, the opposite is true. Everyone believes the Bible when it talks about a war. Why don’t some people believe it when it talks about a miracle? Because some people are inclined to disbelieve in miracles, whatever the evidence may say.

Let’s consider it from another angle. Do you believe in murders? I would guess that 100% of adults reading this, believe that murders happen. Have you ever seen a murder personally? I would guess most of us have not. Have you ever known anyone, personally, who was murdered? Again, I would guess that most of us have not. Why then, do we believe in murders? Because of the testimony of other people. Some murder testimony is written – we might see it in the newspaper. Other testimony is spoken – someone tells us about it. People write stories and TV shows about murder.

There is nearly as much written and spoken testimony throughout history about miracles as there is about murder. If a man tells us of a murder, we tend to believe it. If he tells us about a miracle, many people tend to not believe it. Why not? Because they already have a belief against miracles. They may say, “Ah, but the people telling us about miracles are unreliable. We can’t trust them, because they are biased.” The problem with that is, they would trust them if they were telling about a murder. In other words they believe in murder, so they accept what people say about it. If you don’t believe in miracles, it really doesn’t matter what anyone says – you won’t believe it. In fact, the only reason you think someone telling you about miracle is unreliable, is because you start off by not believing in miracles.

To put it simply: the reason to believe in miracles is because there is so much evidence for them. The reason not to believe in them, is because you are already starting with a belief that they don’t happen.

So it is with the Bible. We know that the texts and contents have been preserved accurately, reliably and authentically. It has been proven reliable in how it records history. We we know we can believe it when it tells us that King Sennacherib invaded Judah. The natural, objective approach would be to believe it also when it tells us of God and the supernatural.

Psalm 119:97-103 says this:

97 Oh, how I love your law!

I meditate on it all day long.

98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,

for they are ever with me.

99 I have more insight than all my teachers,

for I meditate on your statutes.

100 I have more understanding than the elders,

for I obey your precepts.

101 I have kept my feet from every evil path

so that I might obey your word.

102 I have not departed from your laws,

for you yourself have taught me.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,

sweeter than honey to my mouth!

~

I want to briefly make you aware of our situation. This ministry (Clear Bible) until recently was supported by our local church. However, we have had some changes there, and we are now a house church. Today, we have about 8 families. Our church cannot fully support me financially any longer.

 In contrast, about 430 people subscribe to this blog, and an additional 300 or so each week come and visit the site. In other words, by far, most of the people who benefit from this ministry are not part of our little church.

 I’m asking you internet readers/listeners to pray for us. Seriously, before you give any financial support, please give us some prayer support. I value that more than anything else. Pray for this ministry to touch lives. Pray also for financial provision for my family and me.

But then, as you pray, do ask the Lord if he wants you to give financially as well. Be assured, after a small fee to Paypal, 100% of your donations will go to help support my family and me in ministry. In turn, supporting this blog means that you are helping to bless more than 15,000 people each year who visit this blog.

 Some of you may have noticed that I am also a novelist. Often, people have misconceptions about authors. Most of us, including me, make a part-time income through writing, and no more. In other words, we aren’t “raking it in” somewhere else. Now, we trust the Lord to provide, and I don’t want you to give out of guilt or fear. I just don’t want you to get the idea that your donations will only be an “extra” for us somehow.

 If most of our subscribers gave just five or ten dollars each month, (or even less, if everyone pitched in) we would be in good shape. It’s easy to set up a recurring donation when you click the Paypal donate button that is located on the right hand side of this page, down just a little ways.

 You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

 Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support my family and me.

 Thank for your prayers, and your support!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “WHERE DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT COME FROM?

  1. rey

    As you probably know, Catholic Bibles have 73 books, 46 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament. Protestant Bibles have 66 books with only 39 in the Old Testament. The books missing from Protestant Bibles are: Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther and Daniel. They are called the ‘Deuterocanonicals’ by Catholics and ‘Apocrypha’ by Protestants. Martin Luther, without any authority whatsoever, removed those seven books and placed them in an appendix during the reformation. They remained in the appendix of Protestant Bibles until about 1826, and then they were removed altogether. Please be mindful of the fact that those seven books had been in Bibles used by all Christians from the very foundation of Christianity. Hellenistic Greek was the language of the day during the time of Christ. This was due to the fact that Alexander the Great had conquered the region several hundred years before. The Hebrew language was on its way out, and there was a critical need for a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament for dispersed Greek speaking Jews. This translation, called the Septuagint, or LXX, was completed by Jewish scholars in about 148 B.C. and it had all of the books, including the seven removed by Martin Luther over 1650 years later. The New Testament has about 350 references to Old Testament verses. By careful examination, scholars have determined that 300 of these are from the Septuagint and the rest are from the Hebrew Old Testament*. They have shown that Jesus Christ Himself, quoted from the Septuagint. Early Christians used the Septuagint to support Christian teachings. For the first 300 years of Christianity, there was no Bible as we know it today. Christians had the Old Testament Septuagint, and literally hundreds of other books from which to choose. The Catholic Church realized early on that she had to decide which of these books were inspired and which ones weren’t. The debates raged between theologians, Bishops, and Church Fathers, for several centuries as to which books were inspired and which ones weren’t. In the meantime, several Church Councils or Synods, were convened to deal with the matter, notably, Rome in 382, Hippo in 393, and Carthage in 397 and 419. The debates sometimes became bitter on both sides. One of the most famous was between St. Jerome, who felt the seven books were not canonical, and St. Augustine who said they were. Protestants who write about this will invariably mention St. Jerome and his opposition, and conveniently omit the support of St. Augustine. I must point out here that Church Father’s writings are not infallible statements, and their arguments are merely reflections of their own private opinions. When some say St. Jerome was against the inclusion of the seven books, they are merely showing his personal opinion of them. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. However, A PERSONS PRIVATE OPINION DOES NOT CHANGE THE TRUTH AT ALL. There are always three sides to every story, this side, that side, and the side of truth. Whether Jerome’s position, or Augustine’s position was the correct position, had to be settled by a third party, and that third party was the Catholic Church. Now the story had a dramatic change, as the Pope stepped in to settle the matter. In concurrence with the opinion of St. Augustine, and being prompted by the Holy Spirit, Pope St. Damasus I, at the Council of Rome in 382, issued a decree appropriately called, “The Decree of Damasus”, in which he listed the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments. He then asked St. Jerome to use this canon and to write a new Bible translation which included an Old Testament of 46 books, which were all in the Septuagint, and a New Testament of 27 books. ROME HAD SPOKEN, THE ISSUE WAS SETTLED. “THE CHURCH RECOGNIZED ITS IMAGE IN THE INSPIRED BOOKS OF THE BIBLE. THAT IS HOW IT DETERMINED THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE. St. Jerome acquiesced under obedience (Hebrews 13:17) and began the translation, and completed it in 404 A.D.. In 405, his new Latin Vulgate* was published for the first time. *The word “vulgate” means, “The common language of the people, or the vernacular”. The Decree of Pope St. Damasus I, Council of Rome. 382 A.D…. ST. DAMASUS 1, POPE, THE DECREE OF DAMASUS: It is likewise decreed: Now, indeed, we must treat of the divine Scriptures: what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she must shun. The list of the Old Testament begins: Genesis, one book; Exodus, one book: Leviticus, one book; Numbers, one book; Deuteronomy, one book; Jesus Nave, one book; of Judges, one book; Ruth, one book; of Kings, four books; Paralipomenon, two books; One Hundred and Fifty Psalms, one book; of Solomon, three books: Proverbs, one book; Ecclesiastes, one book; Canticle of Canticles, one book; likewise, Wisdom, one book; Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), one book; Likewise, the list of the Prophets: Isaiah, one book; Jeremias, one book; along Esdras, two books; Esther, one book; Judith, one book; of Maccabees, two books. Likewise, the list of the Scriptures of the New and Eternal Testament, which the holy and Catholic Church receives: of the Gospels, one book according to Matthew, one book according to Mark, one book according to Luke, one book according to John. The Epistles of the Apostle Paul, fourteen in number: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Ephesians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Galatians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus one to Philemon, one to the Hebrews. Likewise, one book of the Apocalypse of John. And the Acts of the Apostles, one book. Likewise, the canonical Epistles, seven in number: of the Apostle Peter, two Epistles; of the Apostle James, one Epistle; of the Apostle John, one Epistle; of the other John, a Presbyter, two Epistles; of the Apostle Jude the Zealot, one Epistle. Thus concludes the canon of the New Testament. Likewise it is decreed: After the announcement of all of these prophetic and evangelic or as well as apostolic writings which we have listed above as Scriptures, on which, by the grace of God, the Catholic Church is founded, we have considered that it ought to be announced that although all the Catholic Churches spread abroad through the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” his list of 46 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books was reconfirmed in the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D.. St. Jerome’s translation, “The Latin Vulgate”*, is to this day, the official Bible of the Catholic Church. The Bibles which Catholics use today, have the same 46 books in the Old Testament as they have had since before the beginning of Christianity. I have not seen a Protestant writing giving recognition to Pope St. Damasus I, or of even the barest mention of his decree, or of the Council of Rome. This is more than half of the truth which is “conveniently” left out of Protestant arguments. The Council of Hippo in 393 reaffirmed the canon put forth by Pope Damasus I… AD 393: Council of Hippo. “It has been decided that besides the canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the canonical Scriptures are as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, the Kings, four books, the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon (included Wisdom and Ecclesiastes (Sirach)), the twelve books of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books.” (canon 36 A.D. 393). At about this time St. Jerome started using the Hebrew text as a source for his translation of the Old Testament into the Latin Vulgate. The Third Council of Carthage reaffirmed anew, the Canon put forth by Pope Damasus I… AD 397: Council of Carthage III. “It has been decided that nothing except the canonical Scriptures should be read in the Church under the name of the divine Scriptures. But the canonical Scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon, two books, Job, the Psalter of David, five books of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Sirach), twelve books of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees.” (canon 47 A.D. 397). It is to be noted that the book of Baruch was considered by some Church Fathers to be a part of the book of Jeremiah and as such was not listed separately by them. The Fourth Council of Carthage in 419 again reaffirmed the Canons as defined in previous councils… CANON XXIV. (Greek xxvii.) “That nothing be read in church besides the Canonical Scripture. ITEM, that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the Canonical Scriptures are as follows: Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua the Son of Nun The Judges Ruth * The Kings (4 books) * The Chronicles (2 books) Job The Psalter * The Five books of Solomon (includes Wisdom and Sirach) The Twelve Books of the Prophets Isaiah Jeremiah Ezechiel Daniel Tobit Judith Esther * Ezra (2 books) * Maccabees (2books). The New Testament: * Source: * The Gospels (4 books) * The Acts of the Apostles (1 book) * The Epistles of Paul (14) * The Epistles of Peter, the Apostle (2) * The Epistles of John the Apostle (3) * The Epistles of James the Apostle (1) * The Epistle of Jude the Apostle (1) * The Revelation of John (1 book). Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, [Pope] Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.” [This is Canon xxxvj. of Hippo., 393. The last phrase allowing the reading of the “passions of the Martyrs” on their Anniversaries is omitted from the African code.] The Council of Florence, also called Basel, 1431-1445, was yet another Council which confirmed the Canons of both testaments of the Bible… SESSION 11 4 February 1442: “We, therefore, to whom the Lord gave the task of feeding Christ’s sheep’, had abbot Andrew carefully examined by some outstanding men of this sacred council on the articles of the faith, the sacraments of the church and certain other matters pertaining to salvation. At length, after an exposition of the catholic faith to the abbot, as far as this seemed to be necessary, and his humble acceptance of it, we have delivered in the name of the Lord in this solemn session, with the approval of this sacred ecumenical council of Florence, the following true and necessary doctrine. Most firmly it believes, professes and preaches that the one true God, Father, Son and holy Spirit, is the creator of all things that are, visible and invisible, who, when he willed it, made from his own goodness all creatures, both spiritual and corporeal, good indeed because they are made by the supreme good, but mutable because they are made from nothing, and it asserts that there is no nature of evil because every nature, in so far as it is a nature, is good. It professes that one and the same God is the author of the old and the new Testament — that is, the law and the prophets, and the gospel — since the saints of both testaments spoke under the inspiration of the same Spirit. It accepts and venerates their books, whose titles are as follows. Five books of Moses, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, Esdras, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms of David, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, namely Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; two books of the Maccabees; the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; fourteen letters of Paul, to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, to the Colossians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two letters of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; Acts of the Apostles; Apocalypse of John.” The Council of Florence was held over 100 years before the Council of Trent, and about 80 years before the start of the reformation. The Council of Trent 1546-1565, the longest lasting Council in Church history. AD 1546: The Catholic Council of Trent, called to counter changes made by Martin Luther, again reaffirmed the canonicity of all 46 books of the Old Testament. Some Protestant reformers who attended, tried to get the Church to accept the list of books which the Jewish rabbis had chosen at Jamnia. The Church refused and upheld her teaching from Pope Damasus I, and the Council of Florence. As a result, Protestants have the same New Testament books as Catholics, but their Old Testament differs because it does not contain the books rejected by the rabbis at Jamnia, and much later, rejected by Martin Luther. It is interesting that for 1500 years all Christians accepted the same canon for the Old Testament. Only in the last 480 years, since the reformation, has there been disagreement from Protestants

    1. Interesting thoughts. It would help, in a long post, if you use the return button to make paragraphs! 🙂

      Protestants have never completely ignored or discredited the apocrypha. Luther wrote: “These are books which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading.” The Anglican church declared, in the 39 articles: “And the other books the church doth read for example of life ans instruction of manners; yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” In other words, Protestants have always seen value in these books, but have not assumed they are equal to the Old Testament.

      You mentioned that are are hundreds of quotations from the Old Testament in the New, many from the Septuagint version. However, there are no quotations of what we call the apocryphal books.

      In addition, not all of the apocryphal books are in the Septuagint. The books of Maccabees, for example, could not be in the original Septuagint, since the Septuagint was complete in 200 BC, and Maccabees records history that took place almost half a century later.

      Finally, Jews themselves have never considered the apocrypha part of the Old Testament. The Hebrew text is older than the Septuagint, and does not contain them. I think (as many Christian throughout history have) that they are worthwhile books, but not equal to the Old or New Testament in authority or reliability.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s