How We Got the Bible

How We Got the Bible

Scott Nedland

This will be a very simple explanation on how the Bible came from God to us.  The Bible claims to be the thoughts and Words of God (2 Peter 1:20-21).  We believe the Bible is given by verbal plenary inspiration, which means every Word in the Bible was selected by God. (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Many times the human authors indicate they received Words from God (Jeremiah 1:1ff; Matthew 4:4; Mark 13:11). We are told that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18-20), and He placed that authority in His Word (the Bible) (John 12:48-50). The Father gave the Words to the Son (John 12:48-50), the son gave the Words to the apostles and prophets (John 17:8, 14, 18, Revelation 20:12), by means of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26, 16:12-13, Mark 13:11). The Bible claims to be the only guide we ever need (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

How We Got the Old Testament

The Old Testament consists of 39 Books in the English Bible but 22 in the Hebrew Bible.  The difference is only one of numbering since several of the Books counted individually in the English are counted as one in the Hebrew (such as 1 & 2 Samuel is two Books in the English but one Book in the Hebrew). There is a generally recognized three-fold division of the Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The Law includes Genesis through Deuteronomy, the Prophets are Isaiah through Malachi, and the Writings include the Books commonly known as the Books of History and the Wisdom literature (see Luke 24:44).

Jesus said that Moses wrote the first five Books of the Old Testament known as the Law (see Mark 12:26, Luke 5:14, 16:29, John 5:46) and the Jewish religious leaders recognized this as well (John 9:29).  The Words of God came to men by the Spirit of God (inspiration). When they spoke or wrote it was recognized as the Words of God (see Jeremiah 18:1, 10-11, etc.).  Sometimes the inspired prophets used scribes to write the Words of God for them (see Jeremiah 36:1-4 for example).  These scribes had to be inspired or have a gift from God to be able to write down what the prophet said without error.  It would not make sense to have God give a command to write down His Words if they were not able to without error.  It would not then be the Words of God.  There were inspired prophets and no doubt scribes that were able to speak (prophets) and write (scribes) the Words God had selected for them, from Genesis through the time of Malachi.  After the Book of Malachi there were about 400 years of silence.

Preservation of the Text

During the Talmudic period (c.300 B.C. – A.D. 500), there were two general classes of copies made.  Synagogue rolls were regarded as “sacred copies” and were used in public meetings.  These scrolls were carefully written with specific rules to make sure it was a precise copy.  (1) Clean animal skins. (2) Each skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex. (3) The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 nor more than 60 lines, and the breadth must consist of thirty letters.  (4) The ink should be black. (5) No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory. (5) Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene, and etc.  These are but a few of the rules the scribes used to make sure they made the most accurate copies possible. The second class of copies, were the private copies known as common copies and were for personal use.  These were not copied with the stringent rules of the synagogue rolls but were also prepared with great care and reverence.

During the Masoretic period (c. A.D. 500-100) copies were made which became the basis for the Old Testament text, known as the Masoretic text, used for the last thousand years.  They were very meticulous in their efforts to copy the Hebrew Scriptures and preserve their integrity.  The Masorites instituted a number of new rules for copying. They introduced a vowel system that would be fully preserved even when the language ceased to be spoken.  They sought ways to eliminate scribal errors or changes to the text.  This was accomplished by devising elaborate systems of counting.  Every verse, word and letter of each book was numbered.  They counted the number of times a letter appeared in each book.  They knew the middle verse, word and letter of each book.  Such details ensured that copies made were accurate.

In 1947 a shepherd boy stumbled upon a series of caves near the Dead Sea in which he found several leather scrolls.  Later exploration found thousands of manuscript fragments.  The Dead Sea Scrolls include a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah and fragments which together represent every Old Testament Book except Esther.  These manuscripts are dated from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D., and their discovery allowed an opportunity to compare modern Hebrew manuscripts against copies at least one thousand years older.  Gleason Archer, after examining a fragment of the Book of Isaiah found in addition to the complete text of the Book stated, that it “proved to be 95 percent of the text.  The five percent variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”  From this we can see the great care and reverence that the scribes had for the Scriptures and the care they gave to make sure they copied them as precisely as humanly possible.  In our hands today we have a copy of the Old Testament that we can confidently read as the Word of God.  God has preserved his Words so we can read, study, and know His will (Romans 15:4).

How We Got the New Testament

As far as we know, there are no original or autograph copies or fragments of the New Testament text.  There are, however, an enormous number of Greek (koine or common Greek: the language the New Testament was written in) manuscripts that have been preserved.  The total number of extant New Testament manuscripts is 5,366.  To this number can be added over 36,000 patristic citations and numerous ancient versions.  These manuscripts, citations, fragments etc. can be compared for errors or variations.  We can confidently say the New Testament text we have today is 99.9% accurate.  God has taken great care to preserve the New Testament text.

Preservation of the Text

There are several errors concerning how we got the New Testament Bible we have today.  The first error is the New Testament Bible was established slowly over a period of time, perhaps several hundreds of years.  The second error is the New Testament Bible was determined by a group of men who lived long after the age of miracles (known as “church fathers”).  The third error is the New Testament Bible was established by the Roman Catholic Church.  The truth is God granted miraculous gifts to enable the early church to be established.  These gifts were given in the first century and passed away when the New Testament Bible was completed (1 Corinthians 13:8).  The spiritual gifts were given by the laying on of the apostles (of Jesus) hands (Acts 8:14-19, Romans 1:11).  One of these spiritual gifts was the “discerning of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:29, 1 John 4:1).  Prophets and those with the gift of discernment were commanded to determine if a written document was Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:37).  Examples of this are the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:12-14) and the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:13). In addition, the apostles of Jesus had all spiritual gifts and were able to discern the spirits (see 2 Peter 3:14-18).  They were able to determine what teaching was false and what is from God.

Scribes are mentioned about 54 times in the Old Testament and about 66 times in the New Testament.  It seems their work was similar during both time periods.  Baruch was an inspired scribe for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:1-4).  When Jehoiakim burned the first book Baruch had written, he made another copy exactly like the first one but with additional information (Jeremiah 36:32).  Inspired scribes would make copies of the Scripture without error.  Ezra was a scribe (Ezra 7:6). God provides accurate copies of the Scriptures for His people (Isaiah 40:6-8, 1 Peter 1:24-25, James 1:9-11).  The Word of God will not pass away.  In the first century, during New Testament times, some scribes were converted and became members of the Lord’s church (Matthew 13:52).  Jesus said He would send prophets (inspired speakers/writers), wise men (those who had spiritual gifts by the laying on of the apostles hands), and scribes (those like Baruch in the Old Testament who could copy Scripture without error).  Silas served as a scribe for Peter (1 Peter 5:12).  Silas was also a prophet (Acts 15:32).  Tertius served as a scribe for Paul (Romans 16:22).  Silas and Tertius wrote down what the apostles told them without error.  God would not speak to a prophet or apostle and then have a scribe write His Words down with errors.  The church made copies of the Scriptures (Acts 15:23, 30).  It was common practice to exchange and circulate scripture (Colossians 4:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:14, Galatians 1:2).The existence of miraculously guided men/women in the first century would mean a large number of copies were made that were error free and circulated among the churches.  It would also mean that the New Testament Bible would be completed by the end of the first century before the miraculous gifts had ended (remember spiritual gifts were given by the laying on of the apostles hands.  When the apostles died no more gifts could be given).

God Gave Us His Word

The New Testament Bible was established in the first century by those who had the miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit to those who the apostles of Jesus laid hands on.  Those of the first century who had the gift of “discerning of spirits” were able to know whether a prophet was speaking the truth or if a written document was the Word of God or a document written by a false prophet.  God also sent scribes who were able to make exact error proof copies of each of the 27 Books that make up the New Testament.  These error free copies were made in the first century and established the New Testament that we have today.  There could have been hundreds or maybe even thousands of copies made during the first century by these scribes.

Accurate Bible Translations

We have accurate manuscripts of the New Testament Bible and by comparison we can confidently say that we have a Bible in our hands that is 99.9 percent accurate.  By using the Byzantine (Traditional) text of the Greek New Testament, and making a Word for Word translation we can be confident we have the Word of God in our hands.  There has been a change in translation philosophy over the past 60 years.  Translation has gone from a Word for Word translation to a thought for thought (dynamic equivalent). The modern philosophy has led to inaccurate Bibles (mostly all of the modern ones)!  Today too many modern Bible translators do not believe in verbal, plenary, inspiration.  They serve as interpreters and not translators.  They want to introduce man-made doctrines. They don’t have the reverence for God’s Word that the scribes had while copying both the Old and New Testaments. Many of the modern translations have to do with selling Bibles and not with the great care needed to preserve and pass on the true Word of God to the coming generations.  God has taken care to preserve the manuscripts for us; may we take the care and reverence needed to make sure our translations are as accurate as possible to the original copies of both the Old and New Testaments.  May we always remember what God has told us about His great Book:

“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:6)

“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19)

References: The Progress of the Good Book by Richard Brumback; The Work of the Holy Spirit by Marion R. Fox; The Bible: Salvation and History edited by Kenneth E. Ratcliff, The Bible and its Preservation- Canonicity and Transmission by Robert R. Taylor Jr.; Which Bible edited by David Otis Fuller.


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