By Greg Turner
This is a question that people fight and argue about to defend either their belief in God or their belief that God does not exist. Those who believe in God need to remember that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 KJV). We can forget this “motto” of believers when we are trying to prove certain things. Nevertheless, we are to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21). We depend on the scriptures as the Word of God. The Word tells us that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16-17). Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:1) and it is by Him that all the words in scripture were given (Heb. 1:1-2, 2:3; 2 Peter 3:2; I Peter 1:11). Yet, it can be useful to know how the scriptures came to the form that we see today in the bible. Much of what I include in this letter comes from the work of others as they were inspired of God and I share it here as it was shared with me (Matt. 10:27).
Part 1: About ‘The Law’, ‘The Prophets”, ‘The Psalms’ and the Temple system of the Jews
Have we ever thought about what Jesus taught his followers and disciples? Clearly we have many of his words in the New Testament of the bible. But, do we realize how much of what he said came from the ‘Old Testament’? When they (Jesus and the apostles) spoke of the ‘law of Moses’ they were talking about the first five books of the bible. In their day the scriptures that they quoted from were broken into three books: 1) The ‘law of Moses’ also called ‘the law’ or ‘book of the law’, 2) ‘the prophets’ and 3) the ‘Psalms’. They can be seen quoting from these throughout the New Testament (NT) and Jesus quoted from them often. The following list shows some of the places where the terms ‘the Law’ and ‘the Prophets’ are mentioned in NT as books (or at least that is how the Jews would have understood the terms):
- Jesus referencing “the law” and “the prophets” – Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 2:27; 16:16; John 1:45
- “read in the law” – Matt. 12:5
- “the law” – Matt. 22:36; John 1:17, 7:19,49, 8:5; Acts 6:13,7:53
- “written in the prophets” – Mark 1:2
- “written in the law” – Luke 10:26
- “law of Moses” – Luke 2:22; John 7:23
- “law of the Lord” – Luke 2:23
- There were “doctors of the law” following Jesus – Luke 5:17
- “Moses” used instead of “the law” – Luke 16:29,31
- “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” – Luke 24:27
- “written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms” – Luke 24:44, this is one of the most explicit references to the three books
- “written in your law” – John 8:17
- “We have heard out of the law” – John 12:34
- the Jews read the Law and the Prophets on the Sabbath day – Acts 13:15
- the “Law of Moses” cannot be used for justification – Acts 13:39
- some believers still thought that “the law” should be kept – Acts 15:5 (it is not v. 10)
- the Apostles gave no “commandment” to keep “the law” – Acts 15:24, 21:25
- Jews bring Paul to trial over the law – Acts 18:13,23:3, 24:6
- Paul was brought up and taught the law by a doctor of the law – Acts 22:3
- Paul believed what was written in the law and the prophets and he defends himself and he teaches out of the law and the prophets – Acts 24:14; 25:8; 28:23
- Rom. 2 – Paul teaches about the law, how if it is broken then one becomes uncircumcised and that the law is of the heart and not the physical
- Rom. 3 – Paul talks about how men are justified by faith and not the deeds of the law (the law of Moses). This is not talking about men not needing to be good servants and stewards of Christ. That is addressed elsewhere.
- Rom. 4 – Paul shows how Abraham a type of the God the father was the father of the faithful before he was circumcised, thereby, allowing faithful believers from all nations just as God the Father is the father of the faithful calling them his children of which Jesus is the firstborn whom he sacrificed. The promises are given to those who are faithful and not to those who keep ‘the law’.
- Rom. 5 – The law existed to show what sin was.
- Rom. 6 – We are not under the law, but under grace. Being under grace we are therefore servants of Christ – purchased by His blood – and thereby must serve him and not ourselves.
- Rom. 7 – Paul clearly shows to those that know the law that there is a law where a woman is bound to a man and his law rules in his house until death parts them. Once the man dies the woman is no longer under the law of that man. The same is true for the church. The old testament church (the wife of the God of the old testament which was Jesus as noted in Heb. 10:4) was freed from that old testament law when Christ died. But the Old Testament law was not flawed, but rather it is the flesh that is flawed and sins. The mind (the spiritual aspect of man) can serve God, but the flesh has senses that desire things that lead to sin.
- Rom 8 Paul shows that the law (Mosaic) has been fulfilled in Christians because with the Holy Spirit then can the law of God be kept. No man can be of God without the Holy Spirit.
We can see how extensively Jesus and Paul referenced what they called the ‘scriptures’ which included the five books of Moses also called ‘the law’. Jesus taught in the synagogues (Matt. 13:54; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:15-16) and there the scriptures were read on the Sabbath day. We can see that “after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:15 KJV). So people were allowed to stand up and speak after the reading of ‘the law’ and ‘the prophets’. A little background information will help us understand what was happening on the Sabbath day in a Jewish synagogue.
Adam Clarke’s (AC) Commentary on the Old Testament in the intro to Ezra was where I found an interesting discussion of how scholars think Ezra put together the Old Testament into the three books used by the New Testament Jews.
Ezra was a descendent of Seraiah the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar. It is said in Jewish and Catholic history that he formulated most of the Old Testament. The following excerpt from the AC Commentary gives us an idea of the format and is verified by quotes from the New Testament as we will see later. The commentary says: “…He collected together all the books of which the Holy Scriptures did then consist, and disposed them in their proper order; and settled the canon of Scripture for his time. These books he divided into three parts:
- The Law.
- The Prophets.
- The Cethubim, or Hagiographa; i.e., the Holy Writings: which division our Savior himself takes notice of, Luke 24:44, where he says: ‘These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things might be fulfilled which are written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.’ For there, by the Psalms, he means the whole third part called the Hagiographa; for, that part beginning with the Psalms, the whole was for that reason then commonly called by that name; as usually with the Jews, the particular books are named from the words with which they begin. Thus with them Genesis is called Bereshith, Exodus Shemoth, Leviticus Vaijikra, etc., because they begin with these Hebrew words.”
The following excerpt from the AC Commentary is how they believe that Ezra put the writings together in the three books mentioned above: “And Josephus makes mention of this same division; for he says, in his first book against Apion, ‘We have only two and twenty books which are to be believed as of Divine authority, of which five are the books of Moses. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, king of Persia, the prophets, who were the successors of Moses, have written in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and documents of life for the use of men:’ in which division, according to him, the law contains Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The writings of the prophets, Joshua, Judges, with Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, with his Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, the twelve minor prophets, Job, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; and the Hagiographa, i.e., the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, which altogether make two and twenty books. This division was made for the sake of reducing the books to the number of their alphabet, in which were twenty-two letters. But at present they reckon these books to be twenty-four, and dispose of them in this order: First, the Law, which contains Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Secondly, the Writings of the Prophets, which they divide into the former prophets and the latter prophets: the books of the former prophets are, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; the books of the latter prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; the twelve minor prophets; the Hagiographa, which are the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Song of Solomon, which they call the Song of Songs, Ruth, the Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and the Chronicles. Under the name of Ezra they comprehend the book of Nehemiah; for the Hebrews, and also the Greeks, anciently reckoned Ezra and Nehemiah but as one book. But this order has not been always observed among the Jews; neither is it so now in all places, for there has been great variety as to this, and that not only among the Jews, but also among the Christians, as well as the Greeks and Latins: but no variation herein is of any moment, for in what order soever the books are placed, they are still the word of God; and no change as to this can make any change as to that Divine authority which is stamped upon them.”
How the other books in the Old Testament are believed to have been added: “But all these books were not received into the canon in Ezra’s time, for Malachi it is supposed lived after him; and in Nehemiah mention is made of Jaddua as high priest, and of Darius Codomannus as king of Persia; who were at least a hundred years after his time. And in 1 Chronicles 3:1-24 of the first book of Chronicles the genealogy of the sons of Zerubbabel is carried down for so many generations as must necessarily make it reach to the time of Alexander the Great; and therefore the book could not be put into the canon till after his time.
It is most likely that the two books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, as well as Malachi, were afterwards added in the time of Simon the Just[299-291BC], and that it was not till then that the Jewish canon of the Holy Scriptures was fully completed: and indeed these last books seem very much to want the exactness and skill of Ezra in their publication, they falling far short of the correctness which is in the other parts of the Jewish Scriptures.”
These books were read in the Synagogue on the Sabbath day during Jesus’ time and here is why from the AC Commentary: “The five books of the law are divided into fifty-four sections. This division many of the Jews hold to be one of the constitutions of Moses from Mount Sinai; but others, with more likelihood of truth, attribute it to Ezra. It was made for the use of their synagogues, and the better instructing of the people there in the law of God; for every Sabbath day one of these sections was read in their synagogues; and this, we are assured in the Acts of the Apostles, was done among them of old time, which may well be interpreted from the time of Ezra. They ended the last section with the last words of Deuteronomy on the Sabbath of the feast of tabernacles, and then recommenced with the first section from the beginning of Genesis the next Sabbath after; and so went on round in this circle every year. The number of the sections was fifty-four; because in their intercalated years (a month being added) there were fifty-four Sabbaths.
On other years they reduced them to the number of the Sabbaths which were in those years by joining two short ones several times into one; for they held themselves obliged to have the whole law thus read over to them in their synagogues every year. Until the time of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes they read only the law; but, being then forbid to read it any more, in the room of the fifty-four sections of the law, they substituted fifty-four sections out of the prophets, the reading of which they ever after continued. So that when the reading of the law was again restored by the Maccabees, the section which was read every Sabbath out of the law served for their first lesson, and the section out of the prophets for the second lesson; and so it was practiced in the time of the apostles. And therefore, when Paul entered into the synagogue at Antioch, in Pisidia, it is said that ‘he stood up to preach after the reading of the law and the prophets;’ that is, after the reading of the first lesson out of the law, and the second lesson out of the prophets. And in that very sermon which he then preached, he tells them, ‘That the prophets were read at Jerusalem every Sabbath day,’ that is, in those lessons which were taken out of the prophets.”
The following is an excerpt from the Commentary on the formation of the Jewish religion of Jesus’ day: “Ezra continued in the government of Judea till the end of the year 446; and by virtue of the commission he had from the king, and the powers granted him thereby, he reformed the whole state of the Jewish Church, according to the law of Moses, in which he was excellently learned, and settled it upon that bottom upon which it afterwards stood till the time of our Savior. The two chief things which he had to do, were to restore the observance of the Jewish law according to the ancient approved usages which had been in practice before the captivity, under the directions of the prophets; and to collect together and set forth a correct edition of the Holy Scriptures; in the performance of both which, the Jews inform us he had the assistance of what they call the Great Synagogue, which they tell us was a convention consisting of one hundred and twenty men, who lived all at the same time under the presidency of Ezra, and assisted him in both of these two works; and among these they name Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
But the whole conduct of the work, and the glory of accomplishing it, is by the Jews chiefly attributed to him under whose presidency they tell us it was done; and therefore they look upon him as another Moses: for the law, they say, was given by Moses; but it was reviewed and restored by Ezra, after it had in a manner been extinguished and lost in the Babylonish captivity. And therefore they reckon him as the second founder of it: and it is a common opinion among them that he was Malachi the prophet; that he was called Ezra as his proper name, and Malachi, which signifies an angel or messenger, from his office, because he was sent as the angel and messenger of God to restore again the Jewish religion, and establish it in the same manner as it was before the captivity on the foundation of the law and the prophets. And indeed, by virtue of that ample commission which he had from King Artaxerxes, he had an opportunity of doing more herein than any other of his nation; and he executed all the powers thereof to the utmost he was able, for the resettling both of the ecclesiastical and political state of the Jews in the best posture they were then capable of: and from hence his name is in so high esteem and veneration among the Jews, that it is a common saying among their writers, ‘that if the law had not been given by Moses, Ezra was worthy, by whom it should have been given.’ As to the ancient and approved usages of the Jewish Church which had been in practice before the captivity, they had by Joshua and Zerubbabel, with the chief elders, then contemporaries, and by others that after succeeded them, been gathering together from their first return to Jerusalem, as they could be recovered from the memories of the ancients of their nation who had either seen them practiced themselves before the captivity, or who had been informed concerning them by their parents or others who had lived before them.
All these, and whatsoever else was pretended to be of the same nature, Ezra brought under review, and, after due examination, allowed such of them as were to be allowed, and settled them by his approbation and authority: they gave birth to what the Jews now call their oral law; for they own a twofold law—the first, the written law, which is recorded in the Holy Scriptures; and the second, the oral law, which they have only by the tradition of their elders. And both these, they say, were given them by Moses from Mount Sinai, of which the former only was committed to writing, and the other delivered down to them from generation to generation by the tradition of the elders; and therefore holding them both to be of the same authority, as having both of them the same Divine original, they think themselves to be bound as much by the latter as the former, or rather much more; for the written law is, they say, in many places, obscure, scanty, and defective, and could be no perfect rule to them without the oral law, which, containing according to them a full, complete, and perfect interpretation of all that is included in the other, supplies all the defects and solves all the difficulties of it; and therefore they observe the written law no otherwise than according as it is explained and expounded by their oral law. And hence it is a common saying among them, ‘that the covenant was made with them, not upon the written law, but upon the oral law;’ and therefore they do in a manner lay aside the former to make room for the latter, and resolve their whole Religion into their traditions, in the same manner as the Romanists[Catholic church] do theirs, having no farther regard to the written word of God than as it agrees with their traditionary explications of it, but always preferring them thereto, though in many particulars they are quite contradictory to it, which is a corruption that had grown to a great height among them even in our Savior’s time; for he charges them with it, and tells them that they make the word of God of none effect through their traditions; Mark 7:13. But they have done it much more since, professing a greater regard to the latter than the former; and hence it is that we find it so often said in their writings, ‘that the words of the scribes are lovely above the words of the law; that the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the scribes are all weighty; that the words of the elders are weightier than the words of the prophets;’ where, by the words of the scribes and the words of the elders, they mean their traditions, delivered to them by their scribes and elders. And in other places, ‘that the written text is only as water; but the Mishnah and Talmud, in which are contained the traditions, are as wine and hippocras.’ And again, ‘that the written law is only as salt, but the Mishnah and Talmud as pepper and sweet spices.’ And in many other sayings, very common among them, do they express the very high veneration which they bear towards the oral or traditionary law, and the little regard which they have to the written word of God in comparison of it, making nothing of the latter but as expounded by the former; as if the written word were no more than the dead letter, and the traditionary law alone the soul that gives it the whole life and essence.”Now we can see a little bit why God was so angry with them. God through John the Baptist says “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” Matthew 3:7-10(KJV). Their traditions had become more important than the actual law. We see more of that in the following discussion.
The AC Commentary says: “And this being what they hold of their traditions, which they call their oral law, the account which they give of its original is as follows: they tell us that ‘at the same time when God gave unto Moses the law in Mount Sinai, he gave unto him also the interpretation of it, commanding him to put the former into writing, but to deliver the other only by word of mouth, to be preserved in the memories of men, and to be transmitted down by them from generation to generation by tradition only; and from hence the former is called the written, and the other the oral, law.’ And to this day all the determinations and dictates of the latter are termed by the Jews ‘Constitutions of Moses from Mount Sinai,’ because they do as firmly believe that he received them all from God in his forty days’ converse with him in that mount, as that he then received the written text itself. That on his return from this converse he brought both of these laws with him, and delivered them unto the people of Israel in this manner: As soon as he was returned to his tent, he called Aaron thither unto him, and first delivered unto him the text, which was to be the written law, and after that the interpretation of it, which was the oral law, in the same order as he received both from God in the mount. Then Aaron arising and seating himself at the right hand of Moses, Eleazar and Ithamar his sons went next in, and both these being taught laws at the feet of the prophet in the same manner as Aaron had been, they also arose and seated themselves, the one on the left hand of Moses, the other on the right hand of Aaron; and then the seventy elders who constituted the Sanhedrin, or great senate of the nation, went in, and being taught by Moses both these laws in the same manner, they also seated themselves in the tent; and then entered all such of the people as were desirous of knowing the law of God, and were taught in the same manner. After this, Moses withdrawing, Aaron repeated the whole of the law as he had heard it from him, and also withdrew; and then Eleazar and Ithamar repeated the same, and on their withdrawing, the seventy elders made the same repetition to the people then present; so that each of them having heard both these laws repeated to them four times, they all had it thereby fixed in their memories; and that then they dispersed themselves among the whole congregation, and communicated to all the people of Israel what had been thus delivered to them by the prophet of God. That they did put the text into writing, but the interpretation of it they delivered down only by word of mouth to the succeeding generations; that the written text contained the six hundred and thirteen precepts into which they divide the law and the unwritten interpretations, all the manners, ways, and circumstances, that were to be observed in the keeping of them; that after this, towards the end of the fortieth year from their coming up out of the land of Egypt, in the beginning of the eleventh month, (which fell about the beginning of our June), Moses, calling all the people of Israel together, acquainted them of the approaching time of his death, and therefore ordered that if any of them had forgot aught of what he had delivered to them, they should repair to him, and he would repeat to them what had slipped their memories, and farther explain to them every difficulty and doubt which might arise in their minds concerning what he had taught them of the law of their God; and that hereon they applying to him, all the remaining term of his life, that is, from the said beginning of the eleventh month till the sixth day of the twelfth month, was employed in instructing them in the text, which they call the written law, and in the interpretation of it, which they call the oral law; and that on the said sixth day having delivered unto them thirteen copies of the written law, all copied out with his own hand, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy, one to each of the twelve tribes, to be kept by them throughout their generations, and the thirteenth to the Levites, to be laid up by them in the tabernacle before the Lord, and having moreover repeated the oral law to Joshua his successor, he went on the seventh day into Mount Nebo, and there died; that after his death Joshua delivered the same oral law to the elders who after succeeded him, and they delivered it to the prophets, and the prophets transmitted it down to each other till it came to Jeremiah, who delivered it to Baruch, and Baruch to Ezra, by whom it was delivered to the men of the great synagogue, the last of whom was Simon the Just; that by him it was delivered to Antigonus of Socho, and by him to Jose the son of Jochanan, and by him to Jose the son of Joeser, and by him to Nathan the Arbelite and Joshua the son of Berachiah, and by them to Judah the son of Jabhai, and, Simeon the son of Shatah, and by them to Shemaiah and Abitulion, and by them to Hillel and by Hillel to Simeon his son, who is supposed to have been the same who took our Savior into his arms when he was brought to the temple to be there presented to the Lord at the time of his mother’s purification; and by Simeon it was delivered to Gamaliel his son, the same at whose feet Paul was brought up, and by him to Simeon his son, by him to Gamaliel his son, and by him to Simeon his son, and by him to Rabbah Judah Hakkadosh his son, who wrote it into the book called the Mishnah. But all this is mere fiction spun out of the fertile invention of the Talmudists, without the least foundation either in Scripture or in any authentic history for it. But since all this has made a part of the Jewish creed, they do as firmly believe their traditions thus to have come from God in the manner I have related, as they do the written word itself; and have now, as it were, wholly resolved their religion into these traditions. There is no understanding what their religion at present is without it, and it is for this reason I have here inserted it.”
Their traditions move into a form of religion used by men to control men as we see in the following. “But the truth is this: After the death of Simon the Just there arose a sort of men whom they call The Jarmain, or the Mishnical doctors, who made it their business to study and descant upon those traditions which had been received and allowed by Ezra and the men of the great synagogue, and to draw inferences and consequences from them, all of which they ingrafted into the body of these ancient traditions, as if they had been as authentic as the others; which example being followed by those who after succeeded them in this profession, they continually added their own imaginations to what they had received from those who went before them, whereby the traditions, becoming as a snow-ball, the farther they rolled down from one generation to another the more they gathered, and the greater the bulk of them grew. And thus it went on till the middle of the second century after Christ, then Antoninus Pius governed the Roman empire, by which time they found it necessary to put an these traditions into writing; for they were then grown to so great a number, and enlarged to so huge a heap, as to exceed the possibility of being any longer preserved in the memory of men. And besides, in the second destruction which their country had undergone from the Romans a little before, in the reign of Adrian the preceding emperor, most of their learned men having been cut off, and the chiefest of their schools broken up and dissolved, and vast numbers of their people dissipated, and driven out of their land, the usual method of preserving their traditions had then in a great measure failed; and therefore, there being danger that under these disadvantages they might be all forgotten and lost, for the preservation of them it was resolved that they should be all collected together, and put into a book; and Rabbi Judah, the son of Simeon, who from the reputed sanctity of his life was called Hakkadosh, that is, The Holy, and was then rector of the school which they had at Tiberis in Galilee, and president of the Sanhedrin that there sat, undertook the work, and compiled it in six books, each consisting of several tracts, which altogether made up the number of sixty-three; in which, under their proper heads, he methodically digested all that had hitherto been delivered to them, of their law and their religion, by the tradition of their ancestors. And this is the book called The Mishnah, which book was forthwith received by the Jews with great veneration throughout all their dispersions, and has ever since been held in high estimation among them; for their opinion of it is, that all the particulars therein contained were dictated by God himself to Moses from Mount Sinai, as well as the written word itself, and consequently must be of the same Divine authority with it, and ought to be as sacredly observed. And therefore, as soon as it was published, it became the subject of the studies of all their learned men; and the chiefest of them, both in Judea and Babylonia, employed themselves to make comments on it; and these, with the Mishnah, make up both their Talmuds; that is, the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonish Talmud. These comments they call the Gemara, i.e., The Complement, because by them the Mishnah is fully explained, and the whole traditionary doctrines of their law and their religion completed. For the Mishnah is the text, and the Gemara the comment; and both together is what they call the Talmud. That made by the Jews of Judea is called the Jerusalem Talmud, that by the Jews of Babylonia is called the Babylonish Talmud. The former was completed about the year of our Lord 300, and is published in one large folio; the latter was published about two hundred years after, in the beginning of the sixth century, and has had several editions since the invention of printing. The last, published at Amsterdam, is in twelve folios; and in these two Talmuds, the law and the prophets being in a manner quite justled out of them, is contained the whole of the Jewish religion that is now professed among them; but the Babylonish Talmud is that which they chiefly follow; for the other, that is, the Jerusalem Talmud, being obscure, and hard to be understood, is not now much regarded by them. But this and the Mishnah, being the most ancient books which they have, except the Chaldee Paraphrases of Onkelos and Jonathan, and both written in the language and style of the Jews of Judea; our countryman, Dr. Lightfoot, has made very good use of them in explaining several places of the New Testament by parallel phrases and sayings out of them. For the one being composed about the one hundred and fiftieth year of our Lord, and the other about the three hundredth, the idioms, proverbial sayings, and phraseologies, used in our Savior’s time, might very well be preserved in them. But the other Talmud being written in the language and style of Babylonia, and not compiled till about the five hundredth year of our Lord, or, as some will have it, much later, this cannot so well serve for this purpose. However, it is now the Alcoran of the Jews, into which they have resolved all their faith, and all their religion, although framed almost with the same imposture as that of Mohammed, out of the doctrines falsely pretended to be brought from heaven. And in this book all that now pretend to any learning among them place their studies; and no one can be a master in their schools, or a teacher in their synagogues, who is not well instructed and versed herein; that is, not only in the text, which is the Mishnah, but also in the comment thereon, which is the Gemara; and this comment they so highly esteem beyond the other, that the name of Gemara is wholly engrossed by it; the Gemara of the Babylonish Talmud being that only which they now usually understand by that word; for this with the Mishnah, to which it is added, they think truly completes and makes up the whole of their religion, as fully and perfectly containing all the doctrines, rules, and rites thereof; and therefore it is, in their opinion, the most deserving of that name, which signifies what completes, fills up, or perfects; for this is the meaning of the word in the Hebrew language.”
Should it be any surprise that the Catholic and Protestant churches of today consist almost wholly of doctrines created by men and that the people going to those churches know so little about the actual scriptures that are contained in the Bible. The process seen above where a so-called ‘oral law’ took over, replaced ‘the Law’, and became the religion of the Jews also has happened in Christianity. What started out as a pure worship of God handed from Jesus Christ to His disciples and then to all those who believe – both Jew and Gentile – has devolved into institutions filled full of doctrines of men (Matt. 15:8-9) that has a form and appears Christian, but has taken the people (their hearts) away from God and the truth. Jesus said “it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart[their actions] is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God[the scriptures], you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. He said to them, All too well you reject the commandment of God[scripture], that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6-9 NKJV). Can we not see that we have done the same thing today in Christianity? Paul said he “profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” Galatians 1:14(KJV). Paul came to realize that he was just working in a religion following traditions rather than actually having a relationship with God and working for God. Our world is in great darkness. How can this be if 76% of all Americans claim to be of God and Christianity? Christianity has become a religion full of traditions just like Judaism became a religion full of traditions. We must “go forth to Him[Jesus], outside the camp, bearing His reproach” Hebrews 13:13(NKJV). The camp was speaking of the camp of the Israelites! Just as Paul and all the disciples had to leave the Jewish religion to find Christ so too must we leave Christianity[the religion] to find Christ. Seems contradictory, but we can see by Paul’s example that he was a very religious man above all others. Unfortunately, he was just following Jewish tradition instead of God’s law. Most of the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious hierarchy had to do with their traditions. For example they were upset when He healed on the Sabbath day or when He picked corn on the Sabbath day. The Jews were so busy trying to define every possible way to obey that they completely missed the entire intent of the law. Jesus clearly explained it to them when they asked what the most important law was. He said to love God with all our hearts and then love our neighbors as ourselves. This basically means repent (turn to God), be baptized, and then serve the body of Christ, which is our family and neighbors. It does not mean follow some church or religion. Paul talked about this by saying that we are “buried with Him[Jesus] in baptism, in which you also were raised[yes – NOW raised] with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him[Jesus] from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses[sinful ways] and the uncircumcision[worldly ways] of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements[Moses’law] that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross[see Rom. 7]. Having disarmed principalities and powers[the Jewish religious hierarchy], He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it[the Law]. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ[having a relationship with God]. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility[pretending to be of God] and worship of angels[or ‘messengers’ of God], intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind[desiring a following – see 2 Peter 2:18-19], and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” Colossians 2:12-23(NKJV). Jesus came to free us from false religion, but now we find ourselves serving it once again.
Furthermore, synagogues seem to have been created at the time of Nehemiah in order to enhance the ability to read the Law (the scriptures that Ezra had put together) to the people every week so that they would not forget and transgress the law again. This is described in the Adam Clarke Commentary’s preface to Nehemiah:”It being their ignorance[not knowing the law of Moses] which led them into these transgressions, and this ignorance having been occasioned by their not having heard the law of God read to them; to prevent this for the future, they had from this time the most learned of the Levites and scribes that were skilled in the law, to read it to them in every city; which no doubt was at first done by gathering the people together in the most wide street, where all might the better hear it; but the inconvenience of this being soon felt, especially in the winter and stormy seasons of the year, they erected houses or tabernacles to meet in, and these were the original synagogues among them. That they had no synagogues before the Babylonish captivity is plain, not only from the silence of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but also from several passages in them, which evidently prove that there were none in those days; for it is a common saying, among the Jews, that where there is no book kept of the law, there can be no synagogue; for the chief service of the synagogue being the reading of the law to the people, where there was no law, there certainly could be no synagogue. Many texts of Scripture tell us that the book of the law was very rare through all Judah before the Babylonish captivity. When Jehoshaphat sent teachers through all Judah to instruct the people in the law of God, they carried the law with them; which they need not have done if there had been copies of the law in those cities where they went”.
Similarly, more information from another source (see Donald D. Binder, “Second Temple Synagogue FAQs.” http://www.pohick.org/sts/faqs.html ): “The two most common terms used in our sources are the Greek words synagôgê (pronounced: syn-a-go-GAY) and proseuchê (pronounced: pro-seu-KAY).
The first of these is the cognate to our English word synagogue. It simply means ‘place of the congregation.’ The term appears to have been used most often in Palestine, perhaps as a translation of the Aramaic bet kenisah (‘house of the gathering’) or even the Hebrew bet mo’ed (‘house of the meeting’), which shows up in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Christians encounter the underlying Greek word in their reading of Jesus’ various visits to synagogues.
The second word, proseuchê, means ‘place of prayer.’ It is most often attested outside of Palestine in the diaspora. The term may derive from Jews gathering on sacred cultic days (the Sabbath, Yom Kippur, etc.) in order to offer their prayers while sacrifices were being made in the Temple. It may also have resonances with passages in Isaiah (56:7, 60:7) which refer to the Temple as a ‘house of prayer.’ Christians encounter the underlying Greek word in Acts 16:13, the story of Paul’s visit to a synagogue outside the gates of Phillippi.
While these two terms are most often attested, other words turn up in the sources. The Greek hieron (‘temple’ or ‘sacred place’) shows up frequently in the writings of Josephus and in other documents either written by Gentiles or within a Gentile milieu. The term hieros peribolos (‘sacred precincts’) appears both in Philo’s writings and in an inscription from Egypt. These words obviously imply the sacred nature of the early synagogues.
Other terms from our period include (all in Greek): Synagogion (‘place of dining’), Didaskaleion (‘school’), amphitheatron (‘place for spectators all around’), Sabbateion (‘place of the Sabbath’), Semneion (‘sacred place’), oikos/oikêma (‘building’), and topos (‘place’).
The question of synagogue origins is still a matter of debate among researchers. Nevertheless, one view that is gaining momentum holds that, in one sense, ‘synagogues’ have been in existence as long as Israel has been a people. That is to say, if we understand the Greek term synagôgê in its earliest meaning, i.e., ‘congregation,’ then the ‘synagogue’ on one level was the national and cultic assembly of Israel. Hence synagôgê is commonly used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible[Septuagint]) to represent the gathering of the tribes before the Tabernacle (e.g., Lev 8:3, Deut 5:22, LXX). The same word is later used to describe the assembly before the Temple (1 Chr 5:6, LXX).
On a more local level, ‘synagogues’ (plural) would have been the popular village or city assemblies, held first at the city gates and later in the agoras or civic squares. At some point, these regular public gatherings moved inside public buildings that the ancients referred to with various words, including synagôgê (see above). In Egypt this transition came in the third century BCE. By the first century CE, sources indicate that synagogue buildings existed in every city in the Jewish diaspora.
The evidence strongly supports the view that the Temple and the synagogues together comprised a massive cultic system centered at Jerusalem. Thus the synagogues served as gathering places for prayer and the reading and expounding of scripture on days sacred to the cult, such as the Sabbath, Yom Kippur, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Such observances allowed Jewish communities around the world a measure of participation within Temple ritual.
While the Temple alone served as the Jewish sacrificial center, our sources reveal that the synagogues functioned as local repositories for offerings that envoys conveyed annually to Jerusalem[church headquarters]. The strength of the solidarity between the synagogues and the Temple can be measured not only by the abundance of these offerings, but by the fact that the local congregations protested vehemently to the authorities whenever the transport of these sums was interfered with.
Conversely, our sources indicate that some of the imperial edicts permitting the synagogue congregations to practice their ‘sacred rites’ and ‘native customs’ came about as the result of envoys from the Jewish High Priest. This suggests that the head of the Jewish cult supported the religious practices of the synagogues, evidently seeing them in league with the central shrine. The unity of the two institutions is further seen in an inscription from Jerusalem which reveals that three generations of priests served as the synagogue rulers (archisynagôgoi) of a certain synagogue in that city. Other epigraphic and literary sources indicate that priests and Levites frequently provided leadership within the local synagogues.
The sectarian synagogues serve as somewhat of an exception to the above picture. The Samaritan synagogues, for instance, did not see themselves in league with the Jewish Temple, but with their own cultic site on Mt. Gerizim. Thus in two synagogue inscriptions found on Delos, the Samaritans identify themselves as ‘the Israelites who make first-fruit offerings to the temple on Mt. Gerizim.’ ”
The general picture of the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus Christ consisted of scripture contained in three books or scrolls called the ‘The Law’, ‘The Prophets’, and ‘The Psalms’ from which Jesus and the other New Testament writers and disciples quoted from continually, and the Temple System which consisted of the Temple at Jerusalem and the Synagogues that were spread throughout the known world (of the Roman empire). The synagogues supported the Temple through tithes and offerings which usually were transported to Jerusalem once a year. It all sounds so familiar.
Part 2: Origin of the New Testament Scripture and Formation of the Modern Bible
The so-called New Testament scripture is based upon:
- The four gospels or witnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ
- The Acts of the apostles and other believers in the body of Christ
- The 14 letters (epistles) of Paul (if you include Hebrews) to various churches, Timothy, Titus and Philemon
- The general letters to the churches by James, Peter, John and Jude
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Why are these writings bound up and put in a book called the New Testament? Part of the answer was described by Jesus when He said “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 NKJV). The gospels describing the life and ministry of Jesus and the actions (Acts) and letters of the first century apostles and other believers were recorded during their time to help spread the truth about God that Jesus brought, but also “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV). Not everything that was done was recorded for John said “This is the disciple[speaking of himself] who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:24-25 NKJV). The things that we see contained in the New Testament today were those things that God wanted preserved as a witness and testimony for every generation to come.
The following section contains some information written by Mark Water in the “Encyclopedia of Bible Facts” which show the history of how the New Testament letters were preserved and then ultimately with the Old Testament forged into the bible we have today. This section describes the different type of documents that were created during early times before paper and printing presses were created in the 1500s. The text talks about Parchment and Papyrus which were the two main media that were used for writing on from the time of the Egyptian empire (even before Moses) until the printing press. Parchment is just simply animal skins and Papyrus was made from reeds along the Nile river. Papyrus was written on and then rolled up for storage giving the documents the name of scrolls. Both types were used during the first century, but parchment was more expensive – especially parchment called vellum. Vellum was prepared with extra care, and therefore, was much more expensive.
Mark Water has the following in his book:
“Manuscript Evidence of the New Testament
Overview: There are three avenues to explore to determine whether the transmission of the text of the New Testament was accurate and kept to the original text.
- There is the evidence of the copied Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.
- There is the evidence of the copies of the early translations of the New Testament.
- There is the evidence of the quotations from the New Testament made by the early church leaders, known as the Church Fathers.
Copied Greek Manuscripts
- Autographs [An autograph (from the Greek: αὐτός, autós, “self” and γράφω, gráphō, “write”) is a document transcribed entirely in the handwriting of its author]We do not have any of the original autographs of the New Testament. In their quest to reconstruct the text of the New Testament scholars do not have the assistance of any of the original writings of Paul or the Gospel writers.
Quote Unquote “The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century—say from 250-300 years later.” Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, former director and principle librarian of the British Museum
- Biblical PapyrusArcheologists and biblical scholars have collected more than seventy-five Greek manuscripts with part of the New Testament copied on to them. Many of the manuscripts are no more than quite small fragments with only a verse or two on them, although some are longer with a large section of the New Testament on them.
John Rylands Fragment For example, the manuscript known as P52, called the “John Rylands Fragment” has just a short extract from John’s Gospel on it. It has been dated to about a.d. 125.
- Uncial ManuscriptsUncial manuscripts are Greek manuscripts which take their name from the large box-like letters in which the Greek is written. The twenty-nine uncial letters are all in capitals, and as vellum was always so expensive these manuscripts are written with few spaces between words, very little punctuation and with word contractions. The most important manuscripts are the oldest ones. The uncial manuscripts were copied from the 4th to the 9th centuries a.d. The uncial manuscripts are the most important of the Greek witnesses to the original text of the New Testament.
Important uncial manuscripts Three of the most important of these uncial manuscripts are:
• Codex Vaticanus,
• Codex Sinaiticus, and
• Codex Alexandrinus.
Codex Vaticanus Codex Vaticanus, represented by the letter B, is the oldest of the great uncial manuscripts, dating back to about 350[AD]. It contains 759 vellum sheets out of its original 820 sheets, which are probably written on antelope skins. It contains the entire Bible, both New Testament and Septuagint, except for Genesis 1-46, Psalms 105–137, and the New Testament after Hebrews 9:14.
Codex Sinaiticus Except for 24 verses, Codex Sinaiticus, represented by the symbol for Aleph, is the second oldest of the uncial codices. It has the complete New Testament, except for 24 verses, but only 145 leaves of the Septuagint, that is, about half of the Old Testament. It is dated to early in the 4th century. It is thought of as probably the most important witness to the New Testament because of its antiquity and accuracy.
Codex Alexandrinus Codex Alexandrinus, represented by the letter A, is missing 34 chapters from the New Testament, mainly from Matthew’s Gospel, but contains the whole of the Septuagint except for ten leaves. It is dated to the beginning of the 5th century. Codex Alexandrinus is particularly important in the Greek studies of the New Testament because it contains the best extant text of the Revelation. It also contains the oldest complete text of several Old Testament books.
Codex Vaticanus is housed in the Vatican Library while Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus are in the British Museum. There are about three hundred New Testament uncial manuscripts still in existence.
- Minuscule ManuscriptsMinuscule manuscripts are Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which derive their name from their style of lettering, which is a small cursive type of letter. There are over 2,500 of these manuscripts which are all dated between the 9th to the 15th centuries.
- LectionariesLists of readings of passages from the Bible, testify to the existence of those parts of the original text of the New Testament which were used by the early church fellowships in their worship services. More than 2000 lectionaries, from the 4th to the 12th centuries have been collected and preserved. With the exception of the book of Revelation and of some chapters from Acts the New Testament can be assembled many times over from these lectionaries.
The following talks about the early translation from Hebrew and Greek to Latin.
“Early translations of the New Testament
A. Latin Versions of the New Testament The first Latin translations of the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are the most important of the early versions of the New Testament. It was natural that the New Testament would be translated into Latin as Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire. As Latin became the dominant language of the West Latin versions of the New Testament became the only versions used by Christians in the West. Two Latin versions of the New Testament existed, the “Old Latin” version, and the Vulgate, which included the Old Testament.
I. The Old Latin translation Although these first Latin translations have been dated back to before a.d. 200 they contained a number of mistakes and variations. These Latin translations are known as the “Old Latin” translation and about thirty of these manuscripts still exist.
II. The Latin Vulgate Early church leaders saw the need to revise the “Old Latin” translation to ensure that they had a more accurate translation. This resulted in the Bible we know today as the Latin Vulgate. In 382 Pope Damascus asked Jerome to make a revised Latin version of the whole Bible. The Vulgate was the first translation of the Bible based on Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Jerome, a Greek and Hebrew scholar, standardized the numerous Old Latin translations. Jerome’s translation was called the Latin Vulgate as “Vulgate” means “common.” This Bible came to be known as the versio vulgata (common translation). The Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible meant that the Bible now existed in the ordinary language of the people. Jerome’s new Latin version became the Bible of the Western church for the next one thousand years until the Reformation in the 16th century. There are still about eight thousand copies of the Latin Vulgate in existence.”
The following speaks to why the manuscripts are authoritative and contain the original words from the original writings.
“Authentication of the New Testament The apostolic fathers Ignatius (a.d. 30–107 ), Polycarp (a.d. 65–155), and Papias (a.d. 70–155) cite verses from every New Testament book except 2 and 3 John. So just these three early Church Fathers authenticated nearly all of the New Testament.
Clement of Rome In his Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians in about a.d. 97 Clement cites verses from Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Titus, 1 and 2 Peter, Hebrews, and James.
Ignatius The letters of Ignatius (dated a.d. 115) were written to several churches in Asia Minor and cites verses from Matthew, John, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. These letters indicate that the entire New Testament was written in the first century a.d.
Justin Martyr Justin Martyr, (a.d. 110–165), cited verses from the following thirteen books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and Revelation.
Irenaeus In his book Against Heresies Irenaeus, (a.d. 130–20), quoted from every book of the New Testament except for 3 John. Irenaeus made over 1,200 quotations from the New Testament in his writings, and about 1,800 quotations and references from the New Testament
Clement of Alexandria Clement of Alexandria, writing from a.d. 193 to 220, made about 2,400 quotations and references to every New Testament book except Philemon, James, 2 Peter, and possibly 3 John.
Cyprian Cyprian, a.d. 200–258, made about 1,030 quotations and references from the New Testament. His quotes include every book except Philemon and 2 John, and possibly 3 John, which are the three shortest books in the New Testament. There are enough quotations from the early Church Fathers that even if we did not have a single copy of the Bible, scholars could still reconstruct all but 11 verses of the entire New Testament from material written within 150 to 200 years from the time of Christ.
Over 86,000 quotations from the New Testament have been noted in the writings of the early Church Fathers. Christians believe that it is in God’s providence that the text of the New Testament has been preserved in both quality and quantity, unlike any other document from antiquity.
Early church leaders
• Clement of Rome mentioned at least eight New Testament books (a.d. 95).
• Ignatius of Antioch acknowledged about seven books (a.d. 115).
• Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, acknowledged 15 books (a.d. 108).
• Irenaeus mentioned 21 books (a.d. 185).
• Hippolytus recognized 22 books (a.d. 170–235).”
So even without early manuscripts the New Testament could be reconstructed from the references used by letters of early Christian believers that they sent to each other. The following shows comparisons of the ages of manuscripts of various ancient writings. Which are more believable and more accurate?
“The accurate transmission of the Bible is supported by more and better manuscripts than any other ancient piece of literature. ‘The works of several ancient authors are preserved to us by the thinnest possible thread of transmission. In contrast the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material.’ Bruce Metzger, Princeton professor, and leading biblical text critic ‘To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament Books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.’
John Warwick Montgomery ‘Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora (parva, magna, and finalis) 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. Whoever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?’ Bernard Ramm, speaking on the accuracy and number of biblical manuscripts…
The Integrity of the Manuscript Evidence Like any other ancient book transmitted through a number of handwritten manuscripts, the question to ask about the biblical manuscripts is: How confident can we be that our present day Bibles resemble the original autographs?
|Author||Book||Date written||Earliest copy||Time gap||No. of copies|
|Homer||Iliad||800 B.C.||c. 400 B.C.||c. 400 yrs.||643|
|Herodotus||History||480–425 B.C.||c. A.D. 900||c. 1,350 yrs.||8|
|Thucydides||History||60–400 B.C.||c. A.D. 900||c. 1,300 yrs.||8|
|Plato||400 B.C.||c. A.D. 900||c. 1,300 yrs.||7|
|Demosthenes||300 B.C.||c. A.D.1100||c. 1,400 yrs.||200|
|Caesar||Gallic wars||100–44 B.C.||c. A.D. 900||c. 1000 yrs.||10|
|Livy||History of Rome||59 B.C.–A.D. 17|| partial 4th c.
mostly 10th c.
|c. 1000 yrs||19|
|Tacitus||Annals||A.D. 100||c. A.D. 1100||c. 1000 yrs||20|
|A.D. 61–113||c. A.D. 850||c. 750 yrs||7|
|Many||New Testament||A.D. 50–100||c. 114 (fragment)|| +50 yrs. c. 200 (books),
100 yrs. c. 250
(most of N.T.),
150 yrs. c. 325
“Although 250–300 years sounds like a long time from the writing of the original to the date of the first copy we have, the normal time for the Greek classical writers is 1000 years from the original to our first copy.” F.W. Hall, expert on ancient manuscripts
The Reliability of the New Testament
“If we compare the present state of the text of the New Testament with that of no matter what other ancient work, we must. declare it marvelously exact.” Benjamin Warfield
“The records for the New Testament are vastly more abundant, clearly more ancient, and considerably more accurate in their text [than comparable ancient writings].” Norman Geisler
Number of manuscripts There are more copies of the New Testament than any other document in ancient history. We have over 6000 manuscript copies of either the entire Greek New Testament, or parts of it. By way of comparison, we have
• only about 650 manuscript copies of Homer’s Iliad. However, they date from a.d. 200 to 300 which is over a thousand years after the Iliad was written,
• about 330 manuscript copies of Euripides’ tragedies,
• only nine good copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars,
• and eight manuscripts of the History of Greek historian Herodotus.
Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote The Jewish War shortly after a.d. 70 There are nine manuscripts in Greek which date from a.d. 1000–1200 and one Latin translation from around a.d. 400.”
The canonization of scripture according to Mark Waters:
“Applying ‘canon’ to Scripture
In time, the word kanon was applied to the books of Scripture themselves. The canon became the collection of books or writings accepted by the apostles and leadership of the early Christian church as a basis for Christian belief. It is the standard by which all Christians throughout the ages live and worship.
Athanasius is the first one known to have used ‘canon’ in such a context.
Origen used the word ‘canon’ to denote what we call the ‘rule of faith,’ the standard by which we are to measure and evaluate everything.
The process of recognizing the sixty-six books of the Bible as the word of God is known as canonicity.
The church did not create the canon. Rather, Christians came to recognize the books for what they were: God’s inspired revelation.
The Old Testament canon
… Compared with the New Testament, there was very little controversy over the canon of the Old Testament.
The books of the Old Testament were recognized as being divinely inspired and authoritative almost as soon as they were written. The writers were accepted as being God’s spokesmen. Soon after the book of Malachi was written (in about 430 b.c.), the Jews officially recognized and closed the Old Testament canon.
The Council of Jamnia
The Council of Jamnia, held in about a.d. 90, established and closed the canon of the Old Testament for nearly all Jews. It has been their canon ever since and consists of the twenty-seven books of what we know as the Old Testament. However, the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible differs from the order of the books in what Christians call the Old Testament.
The canon of the whole Bible
All of the books of the New Testament as we know them today we officially recognized:
• In the Eastern Church in a.d. 367 in Athanasius’ Festal Letter;
• In the Western Church in a.d. 397 at a conciliar decision at Carthage.
The sixty-six books which we are now used to seeing in our Bibles were recognized as being the canonical ones in the above 4th century letter and council.
Before the first church council formally ratified the question about which books made up the Christian Scriptures, the decisions had already been made. The council only went on record, approving what was already acknowledged.
The first ‘canon’, the Muratorian Canon, compiled in a.d. 170, included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John.
Council of Laodicea
In a.d. 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches.
Council of Hippo
The Council of Hippo (a.d. 393) declared that the twenty-seven books in our present day New Testament alone were authoritative.
Council of Carthage
The Council of Carthage (a.d. 397) affirmed that the same twenty-seven books were authoritative.
• The Christian church did not create the canon, but received the canon which God created.
• The Old Testament canon came from the hands of Christ and his apostles in the sense that the first Christians knew that the Jewish Scriptures were from God and were fulfilled by Jesus’ coming.
• The New Testament canon came from the Holy Spirit. Only through the Holy Spirit were Jesus’ apostles enabled to speak about and write down the truth about Jesus.
New name modeled on Old Testament
The earliest name given to this new section of Scripture was framed on the model of the name by which what we know as the Old Testament was then known. Just as it was called “The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms” (or “the Hagiographa”—”Holy Writings”), or more briefly “The Law and the Prophets,” or even more briefly still “The Law”; so the enlarged Bible was called “The Law and the Prophets, with the Gospels and the Apostles”; while the new books apart were called “The Gospel and the Apostles,” or most briefly of all “The Gospel.”
This earliest name for the new Bible, with all that it involves as to its relation to the old and briefer Bible, is traceable as far back as Ignatius (a.d. 115), who makes use of it repeatedly (e.g., “ad Philad.” 5; “ad Smyrn.” 7). In one passage he gives us a hint of the controversies which the enlarged Bible of the Christians aroused among the Judaizers (“ad Philad.” 6). “When I heard some saying,” he writes, “Unless I find it in the Old [Books]; his cross and death and resurrection, and the faith which is by him, the undefiled Old [Books]—by which I wish, by your prayers, to be justified. The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest better,” etc.
The New Testament lies hidden in the Old
Here Ignatius appeals to the “Gospel” as Scripture, and the Judaizers object, receiving from him the answer in effect which Augustine afterward formulated in the well-known saying that the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is first made clear in the New. What we need now to observe, however, is that to Ignatius the New Testament was not a different book from the Old testament, but part of the one body of Scripture with it; an accretion, so to speak, which had grown upon it.
Part of the oracles of God
From the evidence of the fragments which alone have been preserved to us of the Christian writings of that very early time, it appears that from the beginning of the second century (and that is from the end of the apostolic age) a collection (Ignatius, 2 Clement) of “New Books” (Ignatius), called the “Gospel and Apostles” (Ignatius, Marcion), was already part of the “Oracles” of God (Polycarp, Papias, 2 Clement), or “Scriptures (1 Timothy, 2 Peter, Barnabas, Polycarp, 2 Clement), or the “Holy Books” or “Bible” (Testt. XII. Patt.).
The principle of canonicity was not apostolic authorship, but imposition by the apostles as “law.” Hence Tertullian’s name for the “canon” is “instrumentum”; and he speaks of the Old and New Instrument as we would of the Old and New Testament. That the apostles so imposed the Old Testament on the churches which they founded—as their “Instrument,” or “Law,” or “Canon”—can be denied by none. And in imposing new books on the same churches, by the same apostolical authority, they did not confine themselves to books of their own composition. It is the Gospel according to Luke[Luke 10:7], a man who was not an apostle, which Paul parallels in 1 Timothy 5:18 with Deuteronomy as equally “Scripture” with it, in the first extant quotation of a New Testament book as Scripture.
Disagreement about the Old Testament
The New Testament used by almost all Christians contains the same twenty-seven books. But when it comes to the Old Testament this is not the case. Jews, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians differ in their view about the number of biblical books in the Old Testament.
• The Jews count twenty-four
• The Orthodox count forty-eight
• The Protestants count thirty-nine
• The Catholics count forty-six
The Jews count “The Twelve” minor prophets as one book, but Christians count these as twelve separate books. In the Hebrew Bible the group of books known as the “Latter Prophets” come before the “Writings.” So while the Protestant and Catholic Bibles end with the book of Malachi the Hebrew Bible ends with 2 Chronicles.
Categorization of books
The following books are found in Orthodox and Catholic Bibles, but not in Jewish or Protestant Bibles.
The longer version of Esther
Wisdom of Solomon
Sirach, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus
Letter of Jeremiah
The longer version of Daniel
In the Hebrew Bible, Daniel and Ruth come in the “Writings” category, but the three Christian Bibles place Daniel among the prophets, and Ruth with the historical books.
Most Orthodox Bibles follow the books which are found in the Septuagint.
The Septuagint, abbreviated by the initials LXX, was a larger version of the Bible[this translation of the Hebrew Bible which is the OT was completed around 132BC which had been translated into Greek. It was used by ancient Greek-speaking Jews and Christians outside of Palestine.
Greek Orthodox Bibles contain the following 10 books from the Apocrypha:
1, 2, and 3 Maccabees
Wisdom of Solomon
The Letter of Jeremiah
Council of Jassy
They were officially recognized at the Council of Jassy in 1642, but even Greek Orthodox scholars now see them as being less inspired than the other Bible books.
Song of Solomon
Wisdom of Solomon
Sirach, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus
Baruch with Letter of Jeremiah
Torah / Law
Song of Solomon
Chronicles 1 and 2
1 Kingdoms 1 Samuel
2 Kingdoms 2 Samuel
3 Kingdoms 1 Kings
4 Kingdoms 2 Kings
2 Esdras Ezra and Nehemiah
Esther longer version
Prayer of Manasseh
Song of Solomon
Wisdom of Solomon
Sirach, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus
Letter of Jeremiah
Daniel longer version
Song of Solomon
Formation of the modern Bible
The following gives a basic timeline of the formation of the bible (from Mark Waters book):
With the writing of the book of Malachi came the completion of the original writing of the Hebrew manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.
Completion of the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Hebrew into Greek.
1st century A.D.
Completion of all the original Greek manuscripts which make up the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate.
Anglo-Saxon translations of the New Testament made.
Wycliffe is the first person to produce a manuscript copy, hand-written of course, of the complete Bible in English.
Gutenberg’s printing press enables books to be mass-produced instead of individually hand-written.
The first printed book was Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.
Erasmus produces a Greek/Latin parallel New Testament.
Martin Luther’s German New Testament.
First printed Hebrew Old Testament.
In 1524, Jacob ben Hayyim used copies of the ben Asher manuscripts and had them printed and published. As this was the first text of the Hebrew Old Testament to be printed it soon became the standard for printed Bibles.
The earliest complete copy of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament is housed in the St. Petersburg Public Library and dates back to about a.d. 1008.
William Tyndale’s New Testament is the first New Testament to be printed in the English language.
Myles Coverdale’s Bible is the first complete Bible to be printed in the English language.
The Matthew’s Bible was the second complete Bible to be printed in English.
The “Great Bible” was the first English Language Bible to be authorized for public use.
The Geneva Bible was the first English Language Bible to print chapter and verse numbers.
The Bishop’s Bible was printed. The KJV was a revision of this Bible.
The Douai Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament of 1582 which make the first complete Roman Catholic translation of the Bible into English.
The King James Bible is published.
The Robert Aitken’s Bible is printed and becomes the first English Language Bible (a King James Version without the Apocrypha) to be printed in America.
Isaac Collins produces the first Family Bible printed in America, using the KJV. Isaiah Thomas produces the first illustrated Bible Printed in America, using the KJV.
Jane Aitken’s Bible becomes the first Bible to be printed by a woman.
Noah Webster’s Bible is published by the author of a famous dictionary. Webster printed his own revision of the KJV.
The English Hexapla New Testament printed the Greek and 6 English translations in parallel columns.
The Illuminated Bible was a lavishly illustrated Bible printed in America, using the KJV.
The “Revised Version” Bible was the first major English revision of the KJV.
The “American Standard Version” was the first major American revision of the KJV.”
The following shows the details of how the KJV of the bible came into being (from Mark Waters book):
“The Geneva Bible, 1560
The Geneva Bible of 1560 was produced by scholars who fled from England to Geneva, Switzerland, during the persecution instigated by Queen Mary. Mary had also banned the printing of Scriptures in English and no Bibles were printed in England in English in her reign.
• It was Influenced by Calvinist thought.
• In turn, the Geneva Bible had marked Influence over the King James Version.
• The Geneva Bible was said to be the first “Bible of the people.”
• Between 1560 and 1644 140 editions of this Bible were published.
The translators of the Geneva Bible, headed by William Whittingham and Anthony Gilby, worked from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. In this way, the Geneva Bible became the first Bible to be translated into English from the original biblical languages.
The New Testament was finished in 1557, and the complete Bible was published in 1560.
In the Geneva Bible the verse divisions of Robert Estienne, originally used in his Greek New Testament of 1551, were printed. The Old Testament had been divided into verses by R. Nathan in a.d. 1448 and the New Testament by Robert Stephanus in a.d. 1551.
The Bible was divided into chapters by Stephen Langton in a.d. 1228. The whole of the Geneva Bible was divided into chapters and verses and it was the first Bible to print verse numbers in the text. The numbered verses were each set off as a separate paragraph.
Instead of the heavy and clumsy-looking Gothic or black-letter type, which had always been used previously for Bibles, the 1560 version was printed with Roman type.
Use of italics
All added words which were not in the original Hebrew or Greek were italicized.
Size of Bible
Previous English versions of the Bible were huge, unwieldy books, only suitable as lectern Bibles for reading in churches. Most printings of the Geneva Bible were small, conveniently-sized quarto editions, measuring 6½ x 9¾ inches.
They were much less expensive than previous Bibles.
The outstanding feature of the Geneva Bible centered on its extensive marginal notes. It was the first Bible to be printed with such notes.
These notes were very extensive, and amounted to nearly 300,000 words.
Leading Reformation theologians such as John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby, William Keithe, Thomas Sampson, and Thomas Wood were responsible for writing these notes.
First study Bible
References to other parts of the Bible were included with these marginal notes and so the Geneva Bible became the first study Bible.
Purpose of marginal notes
These marginal notes are described as “brief annotations vpon all the hard places, aswel for the vnderstanding of suche wordes as are obscure, and for the declaration of the text, as for the application of the same as may moste apperteine to Gods glorie and the edification of his Churche.”
An example of an explanation of an obscure word occurs at Matthew 9:16 where “newe cloth” is explained as “Or, rawe and vndressed.”
Understanding the text
An example of understanding the text comes in the marginal note on John 13:14. In the margin opposite Jesus’ words, “Ye also oght to wash one anothers fete” (John 13:14), is added, “To serue one another.”
Occasionally the same verse contains both kinds of the above comments. The word “vessels” in the statement, “Neither do they put newe wine into olde vessels” (Matt. 9:17), is described as, “Bottels or bagges of ledder or skinne, wherein wine was caried on asses or camels.” The word “olde” is explained by the comment, “The minde which is infected with the dreggs of superstitious ceremonies, is not mete to receiue the pleasant wine of the Gospel.”
Influence of Geneva Bible
• The Geneva Bible was the first Bible taken to America.
• The Geneva Bible was the Bible of the Pilgrim Fathers who came to America.
• The first Bible to be printed in Scotland was a Scottish edition of the Geneva Bible, in 1579.
• It became known as The People’s Bible and was the most popular English Bible for 75 years.
• It was the Bible used by Shakespeare, John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, and the Puritans.
Although it was officially known as the Geneva Bible, due to a passage in Genesis describing the clothing that God made for Adam and Eve when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden as “breeches”, this Bible also became known as the Breeches Bible.
The King James (or Authorized) Version, 1611
The most famous English Bible ever printed takes its name from the English monarch, King James I, who wanted to produce another official, authorized Bible for use in churches of England. James longed for a Bible to circulate in England that had the popularity of the Geneva Bible but without the controversy linked with it.
James sought to have produced “the translation to end all translations.”
Many sources were used in the translation work of the King James Bible. It was based on the Bishop’s Bible.
Additionally, Greek and Hebrew texts were studied. For the New Testament the translators used the Textus Receptus as the basis for their work. Previous English translations were also freely consulted and used.
The story of the KJV
Hampton Court Conference
At the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 Dr. John Reynolds, a leading Puritan and President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, requested that a new translation of the Bible should be undertaken. He, “moved his Majesty, that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry the eighth, and Edward the sixth, were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the Original.”
King James’ support
While most of the church leaders present at the conference were against this suggestion King James supported it.
The king responded by saying that he,
So it was resolved,
Fifty-four of the ablest biblical scholars in Great Britain were nominated to undertake this work, although it appears that only forty-seven of them took part in the translation work.
The translators were organized into six groups, and met at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford.
Three groups worked on the Old Testament and three worked on the New Testament.
Two groups for the Old and New Testaments met at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude.
At Cambridge, eight worked on 1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, and seven on the Apocrypha.
At Oxford seven translated Isaiah through Malachi and a further eight translated the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.
The Oxford group
“The Oxford group was headed by Dr. John Hardinge, Regius Professor of Hebrew; and included Dr. John Reynolds, the originator of the project, ‘his memory and reading were near to a miracle’; Dr. Miles Smith, who ‘had Hebrew at his fingers’ ends’; Dr. Richard Brett, ‘skilled and versed to a criticism in the Latin, Greek, Chaldee, Arabic and Ethiopic tongues’; Sir Henry Saville, editor of the works of Chrysostom; and Dr. John Harmer, Professor of Greek, ‘a most noted Latinist, Grecian and divine.'”
The Cambridge group
“The Cambridge committee was at first presided over by Edward Lively, Regius Professor of Hebrew, who died in 1605 before the work was really begun, and included Dr. Lawrence Chaderton, ‘familiar with the Greek and Hebrew tongues, and the numerous writings of the Rabbis’; Thomas Harrison, ‘noted for his exquisite skill in Hebrew and Greek idioms’; Dr. Robert Spalding, successor to Lively as Professor of Hebrew; Andrew Downes, ‘one composed of Greek and industry,’ and John Bois, ‘a precious Greek and Hebrew scholar.'”
The Westminster group
“The Westminster group was headed by Lancelot Andrews, Dean of Westminster, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, of Ely, and finally of Winchester, ‘who might have been interpreter general at Babel … the world wanted learning to know how learned be was’; and included the Hebraist Hadrian Saravia; and William Bedwell, the greatest living Arabic scholar.” H. Wheeler Robinson
In the Preface to the Reader which appeared in this version, the translators stated that they did not hesitate: “to consult the Translators or Commentators, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Gedi or Estienne no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch.”
The translation work started in 1607, was completed in 1610, and published in 1611.
The following fifteen rules guided the translators in their work.
1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, etc.
4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.
7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
11. When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgment of such a Place.
12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skillful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishop’s Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.
15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.
It is not always easy to say exactly where each word in the KJV came from, but the following calculations about the vocabulary of the KJV have been made.
• 39% is unique to the KJV
• 4% is possibly derived from Wycliffe
• 18% from Tyndale
• 13% from Coverdale
• 19% from the Geneva Bible
• 4% from the Bishop’s Bible
• 3% from other preceding versions.
In contrast with the Geneva Bible all controversial notes were excluded.
Marginal notes included
However, over four thousand marginal notes were included. In the Old Testament these gave the literal meaning of Hebrew words. The 765 New Testament marginal notes indicated variant or alternative renderings.
Chapter summaries and page headings were introduced.
In 1701 chronological dates based on the chronology of Archbishop Ussher were printed.
The 1611 edition was continually corrected.
Even by 1613 over 300 changes of some kind from the original of 1611 had been made.
By 1760 thirty thousand new marginal references had been added.
Versions of KJV
1611—First Authorized Version. It included the Apocrypha.
1629—First Authorized Version without the Apocrypha.
1632—One of the earliest Bible concordances, entitled, A Concordance to the Bible of the Last Translation, by John Downham, was appended to the 1632 edition of the KJV Bible.
1701—Insertion of dates of Archbishop Ussher in margins.
1769—Today’s Oxford Standard Authorized Version differs from the 1611 version in over 75,000 details
1777—First KJV New Testament printed in US.
1782—First KJV complete Bible printed in US.”
In summary we can see that the creation of the modern bible went through considerable struggle. Men have been searching for the truth for thousands of years just like we do today. Back then they had to continually try to determine if a writing was truly from God as they read it. We have the same situation today. Even though we have the bible which is the Word of God (John 1:1; Heb. 4:12; John 5:38) we are continually sent letters, books, blogs and emails from men who are striving to know the truth and then share it as required by Jesus (Matt. 10:27). Yet, not all of these men are true servants of God for “by their fruits shall you know them” (Matt. 7:15-20). So we too have to continually strive to know the truth and the more we dwell in God then the easier it will be to know it for we will know Him who is the truth (John 8:31-47, 14:6). As seen above there is still disagreement on which and how many books should be in the bible. Nevertheless, we are given the Holy Spirit to discern the good from the bad. Having read some of the books that are not included in the “protestant” version of the Bible I can say that it is quite clear what is inspired and what is not. I say this not to endorse anything or to throw anything out, but rather that by the leading of the Holy Spirit it is obvious what is truth. The scriptures in the bible are the most accurately maintained words of ancient history. No other work can compare. Yet, scholars at universities will teach Plato or other ancient writings that have nowhere near the certainty of the transmission of the original like we have with the bible. As we saw above the closest manuscript to Plato’s time was written 1300 years after Plato wrote the originals. How in the world are people supposed to believe that those were same as what Plato wrote? Yet scholars teach it so and then they teach that the bible is made up or is just a set of poems or stories all the time denying the truth and pushing their own fables and false doctrines (I Tim. 1:4, 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14). The bible is the witness (2 Peter 1:16) of the truth that God exists and that is why God inspired the writings that are in it to be saved and collected together. Further, these writings will be used by God to judge people during the day of judgment (Rev. 20:12) which is now for the church (1 Peter 4:17). Believe in the scriptures or not, but you will face the Judge and be judged by them.
To be continued in part three that shows where modern churches came from and how they evolved.
In His name,
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