Purpose of the session
To inform the student regarding the utter reliability of the texts from which our Scriptures derive, and the fact that we can trust the Word of God, not only as a matter of ‘faith’, but also as a result of literary, historical, archaeological and scientific investigation.
Are the Scriptures Authentic & Reliable?
In our last session we considered some of the evidences which indicate the supernatural Source of the Scriptures. In this session we will not be considering the inspiration of the Scriptures, but their historical reliability. We will be looking at the texts themselves. How did we receive them? Are they authentic? Can we trust that what we read today is actually what was written by their supposed authors?
We will then look at the formulation of the canon of sixty-six books accepted as authoritative by the Protestant church worldwide, and also at different translations of the scriptures and their worth to the serious Bible student.
In our study one the next few lessons we will look at the following:
1. Old and New Testament manuscripts, and the tests applied to them to establish their authenticity and accuracy
2. The preservation and translation of said manuscripts
3. The canon of scripture – Who decided what would be in it?
The Old Testament
The Original Old Testament Writings & Authors
Having already established the inspiration of the Bible, we will accept the internal evidence presented by the writings themselves as to their authors. Many of the books in the Bible have clear introductions by the authors. Isaiah begins, “the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz…”, Micah begins, “The Word of the Lord that came to Micah…” In several places, Moses records that it was he who wrote down much of what we read in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.
“And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD....” (Ex 24:4 NKJV)
“So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.” (Deut 31:9 NKJV)
“Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the LORD. And these are their journeys according to their starting points:” (Num 33:2 NKJV)
Other Old Testament and New Testament books also bear Witness to Mosaic authorship. Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, the books of Kings and Chronicles, all declare the law (the Torah) to be the work of Moses. The Apostles in several places also attribute these early books to Moses. Most significantly, in several places it is recorded in scripture, that Jesus Himself believes the Torah to be from Moses:
“Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”” (John 5:45-47 NKJV)
Selected Old Testament References: Joshua 8:31; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chronicles 35:12; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:13
Selected New Testament References: Mark 12:19; John 1:17; Romans 10:5; Luke 16:29-31
These are just a few references bearing witness to Mosaic authorship.
Modern Hypothesis regarding Biblical writings
The reason we take time now to consider what to most would be self-evident from the texts themselves (especially in the light of their ultimate Divine origin), is because some modern schools of Biblical scholarship undermine the plain authority of scripture by questioning some of these assumptions, and then asserting, contrary to the witness of scripture itself, that the claimed authors of certain books are false.
Examples include claims that the Torah was written by several different authors and editors up to a thousand years after Moses death, being subject to numerous revisions and compilations. This idea is based on literary variations within the text which, its proponents assert, is clear indication of a ‘mosaic’ of authors, not a Mosaic authorship. In 1895 Julius Wellhausen put the finishing touches to this hypothesis, known as the ‘Documentary hypthesis’, which astonishingly has become prevalent in modern biblical circles.
The same intellectual pride applies itself to the book of Isaiah. In 1892 Bernhard Duhm, popularised the theory that Isaiah was in fact two books, by two different authors, one of which may have been Isaiah himself, the other by an unknown prophet (who they named Deutero-Isaiah). This assumption is based on textual differences between the first 39 chapters and the remaining fifteen in the book of Isaiah. Some ‘scholars’ have even ventured to attribute the books to up to four different unknown prophetic writers!
In refutation of this hypothesis, Archibald McCaig, is quoted in J Sidlow Baxter’s, ‘Explore the Book’:
“According to the old tradition, the prophet Isaiah was sawn asunder. Of the truth of the tradition we cannot be sure, but we know that one of the earliest feats of the Higher Criticism was to perform the like operation upon his prophecy. So much is the theory of a divided prophecy gaining ground, that no one must make any pretension of scholarship if he hesitates to accept the double authorship of Isaiah. From chapter xl. to the close was written, we are told with tiresome iteration, not by Isaiah, but by a prophet of the exile – the Great Unknown. By the way, it is remarkable how many unknown great men flourished among the Jews, and remained unknown to their posterity, until, in these enterprising days, the Higher Critics arose and discovered them, brought them into light with the exception of their names.”
Explore The Book
Such so called higher criticism, which sets itself against the plain testimony of scripture itself is a monument to man’s pride:
“Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom 1:22 NKJV)
The Language of the Old Testament - HEBREW
The Hebrew language has vividness, conciseness and simplicity that is difficult to translate fully. It typically takes twice as many English words to translate Hebrew.
In their book A general Introduction to the Bible, Norman Geisler and William Nix describe this beautiful language this way:
“It is a pictorial language, speaking with vivid, bold metaphors which challenge and dramatize the story. The Hebrew language possesses a facility to present ‘pictures’ of the events narrated. ‘The Hebrew thought in pictures, and consequently his nouns are concrete and vivid. There is no such thing as neuter gender; for the Semite everything is alive. Compound words are lacking. There is no wealth of adjectives.…’ The language shows ‘vast powers of association and, therefore, of imagination.’ Some of this is lost in the English translation, but even so, ‘much of the vivid, concrete, and forthright character of our English Old Testament is really a carrying over into English of something of the genius of the Hebrew tongue.’ As a pictorial language, Hebrew presents a vivid picture of the acts of God among a people who became examples or illustrations for future generations (cf. 1 Cor 10:11). The Old Testament was intended to be presented graphically in a ‘picture-language.’
Further, Hebrew is a personal language. It addresses itself to the heart and emotions rather than merely to the mind or reason. Sometimes even nations are given personalities (cf. Mal 1:2,3). Always the appeal is to the person in the concrete realities of life and not to the abstract or theoretical. Hebrew is a language through which the message is felt rather than thought. As such, the language was highly qualified to convey to the individual believer as well as to the worshiping community the personal relation of the living God in the events of the Jewish nation. It was much more qualified to record the realization of revelation in the life of a nation than to propositionalize that revelation for the propagation among all nations.”
Furthermore, Chuck Missler notes in his excellent study, ‘The Bible In 24 Hours’ that the Hebrew language is conceptual. The letters themselves carry meaning, not just indications of sounds.
The example He gives is from the fist two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet:
Aleph = “First”; “Strength”; or “Leader.”
Bet = “House”; “Family” (Beth-lehem; Beth-El; etc.)
Aleph-Beth together therefore would imply the meaning, “Leader of the House” or “Father”
The letter Heh = “Behold”; “Revealed”. It also speaks of “Breeze”; “wind;” “Spirit.” Spirit being the essence or centre of something.
If we place the Heh into aleph-beth we get the word ‘Ahab’ revealing the heart or essence of the Father… The Hebrew word ‘Ahab’ is the Hebrew word for ‘Love’.
This amazing language is the one our Father chose to express His overflowing heart to mankind!
The Old Testament manuscripts from which our Bibles derive
We do not possess any of the original manuscripts written by Moses or the other prophets and scribes, only copies of them. In fact, until the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the earliest complete copy of the Hebrew scriptures was dated about 900AD. This meant that there was a gap of 1300 years between the completion of the Old Testament canon in 400BC and the most recent copy of those manuscripts.
Closer examination of the facts however, would cause any serious investigator to consider the ancient manuscripts of the Bible in a different way to other ancient literature.
The Talmudists (AD 100-500)
Willmington records details concerning the care and copy of the Scriptures in his ‘Guide to the Bible’ page 823):
During this period of history, great care and interest was taken in copying the sacred scrolls. An intricate system for transcribing the synagogue scrolls was devised. What follows are some of the minute regulations outlined in the Talmud:
1. The parchment had to be made from the skin of a clean animal, prepared by a Jew only, and was to be fastened by strings from clean animals.
2. Each column must have no less than forty-eight or more than sixty lines.
3. The ink must be of no other color than black, and had to be prepared according to a special recipe.
4. No word nor letter could be written from memory; the scribe must have an authentic copy before him, and he had to read and pronounce aloud each word before writing it.
5. He had to reverently wipe his pen each time before writing the Word of God, and had to wash his whole body before writing the sacred name Jehovah.
6. One mistake on a sheet condemned the sheet; if three mistakes were found on any page, the entire manuscript was condemned.
7. Every word and every letter was counted, and if a letter were omitted, an extra letter inserted, or if one letter touched another, the manuscript was condemned and destroyed at once. The old rabbi gave the solemn warning to each young scribe: “Take heed how thou dost do thy work, for thy work is the work of heaven; lest thou drop or add a letter of a manuscript and so become a destroyer of the world!”
The Massoretic Period (Ad 500-900)
Following the Talmudists, The Massoretes (meaning “tradition”) also treated the text with great reverence, and devised complicated safeguards against scribal slips:
Sir Fredrick Kenyon, who was director and principal librarian of the British museum, and a primary authority on ancient MSS, describes the Massoretes.
Besides recording varieties of reading, tradition, or conjecture, the Massoretes undertook a number of calculations which do not enter into the ordinary sphere of textual criticism. They numbered the verses, words, and letters of every book. They calculated the middle word and the middle letter of each. They enumerated verses which contained all the letters of the alphabet, or a certain number of them; and so on. These trivialities, as we may rightly consider them, had yet the effect of securing minute attention to the precise transmission of the text; and they are but an excessive manifestation of a respect for the sacred Scriptures which in itself deserves nothing but praise. The Massoretes were indeed anxious that not one jot or tittle, not one smallest letter nor one tiny part of the letter of the Law should pass away or be lost.”
Quoted from Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, page 50, ISBN 0-8407-4419-6
Primary Authority on Ancient MSS
The question first asked by Kenyon was this, “Does this Hebrew text, which we call Massoretic, and which we have shown to descend from a text drawn up about AD 100, faithfully represent the Hebrew text as originally written by the authors of the Old Testament books?”
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 gives a positive answer to Kenyon’s question.
Dead Sea Scroll Discovery
In 1947 Bedouin shepherds discovered in these caves a priceless treasure. Inside the caves were ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls’ manuscripts of Old Testament and other books dating back to before the time of Christ. It is likely that the devout community which lived in nearby Qumran may have hidden the scrolls to preserve them from impending Roman invasion.
Cave 4 at Qumran (above), where more than 40,000 scroll fragments were found. The first scrolls were discovered in a cave about a mile north of Khirbet Qumran, but the largest quantity was discovered in this cave, just over 100 yards from the Essene community. The discovery of scrolls so close to Khirbet Qumran suggest that the scrolls may have been produced by the Qumran Essenes.
The Dead Sea scrolls are made up of 40,000 inscribed fragments dating as far back as 125BC. From these fragments more than 500 books have been constructed. Of the Old Testament books, only Esther is not represented.
Above: A Jar from Qumran in which some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were stored and some examples of the fragments found in them.
The Oldest complete Hebrew MSS possessed is a Massoretic text from approximately 900AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls provided us with proof that the transmission of the texts, even over such long periods, is amazingly accurate.
Archaeologist and historian, Dr William F Albright, stated that this find was “the most important discovery ever made concerning the Old Testament manuscripts.”
One of the scrolls found was a complete MS of the Hebrew text of Isaiah (dated by palaeographers at around 125BC). This is more than 1000 years older than the previous manuscript. The impact of the discovery was in the exactness of the Isaiah scroll (125BC) with the Massoretic text (AD 916) which were almost identical.
The Septuagint (LXX)
Another strong argument for the integrity of the texts we now hold, and their accuracy, is the Greek version of the Old Testament, commonly called ‘The Septuagint’ (meaning 70 after the tradition that it was translated from the Hebrew by about 70 Biblical scholars in 285-270 BC). [tradition tells us that its was actually 72 scholars in 72 days].
This was the ‘Bible’ of Jesus day, and the version that the majority of New Testament quotes are directly taken from. Again, the copies that we have of this document further corroborates that the scriptures we possess today are very close to the original writings.
In conclusion, we quote again from Sir Fredrick Kenyon, who after years of study in these areas, came to the informed decision,
It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries of the authenticity of the Scriptures, [is] our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable word of God.”
Quoted from Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, page 47, ISBN 0-8407-4419-6
Primary Authority on Ancient MSS