- The Jewish Bible and the Christian Scriptures
Though some contain a few more or a few less, most Bibles are today comprised of sixty six books, thirty nine in the Jewish Bible (commonly referred to as the Old Testament) and twenty seven in the Christian Scriptures (usually referred to as the New Testament). Which books and epistles that were accepted into the Christian Scriptures, and which ones that were rejected, was for the most part determined by the early Churches themselves. If a particular book or epistle was readily accepted by the various congregations as authentic, then it most likely gained entrance into the general Canon of the Church, as it was called.
As no recognized authority was present to make the determination as to what was inspired and what was not, each congregation was left to itself to determine which writings it included. Howbeit, there is no way for us to know if other records which were left out of the Canon were not also inspired; or, whether or not everything that is included is indeed inspired. We just have to do the best with what we have.
When I was new to studying the Bible, I asked one of my mentors how we know whether or not that which we believe is indeed true? Her answer satisfied me then and it still does today. She simply quoted me a verse Paul had written to the Church at Philippi.
- PHILIPPIANS 3:15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
As it is GOD's desire that we know the truth, we can have confidence that as long as our hearts are open to HIS reproof, HE will eventually correct us in areas where we are believing wrongly. I was also taught that if there was something that I just did not understand, that I should place it on my spiritual shelf, and then go on with my life. Don't let it become a hindrance to my further learning and growth. Occasionally I may return to it, and reconsider what had troubled me, but if no answer was yet there, then I replaced it to the shelf and moved on. Eventually though the answers to my questions came.
The first book in the modern Bible is GENESIS, which although was composed by Moses, it was not actually written by him. It was a compilation of ancient clay tablets which were written long before he was ever born. There were eleven tablets in all, each written by an eye witness of the events of which he wrote (except the first one).
Sometime after Moses had led the nation of Israel out of Egypt, as they wondered around the desert, it is then that he took these ancient Tablets and compiled them into one book, which we today call GENESIS (to read more on the origination of the book of GENESIS, see New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis, by P. J. Wiseman). Moses and his scribes then wrote the next four books, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS and DEUTERONOMY. As time went on, others wrote the remaining books of the Jewish Bible, through to MALACHI.
When the time finally came for Israel's long awaited Savior to appear, GOD sent John the Baptist. The four Gospels (MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE and JOHN) pick up the thread here. These Gospels begin with John's birth and end with Yeshua's (Jesus') resurrection, a little over thirty years later. The subject matter of these Gospels is for the most part about GOD sending Yeshua to save the nation of Israel from their sins and their ultimate rejection of that Savior. The Gospels culminate with Yeshua being betrayed, crucified, buried and then raised from among the dead.
Luke, in his second book entitled ACTS, again picks up the thread with the ascension of Yeshua to the right hand of GOD, and tells the story of Yeshua's followers calling upon Israel to repent for rejecting their Messiah. This time though, over the next forty years the message is sent out to the Jews which were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, the Dispersion.
Along the way, the chief persecutor of the believers, Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, is converted and the balance of ACTS for the most part centers around Paul's missionary journeys. Of the twenty seven books and epistles of the Christian Scriptures, Paul wrote thirteen of them. John wrote five, Peter and Luke two each, and Matthew, Mark, James, Jude each wrote one, with HEBREWS being written by an unknown disciple.
The Christian Scriptures appropriately close with the book of REVELATION. This is a record of John's visions concerning the day of GOD's wrath which had been fast approaching for some time. Many prophets in the Jewish Bible had warned of it, as well as all of the Christian writers.
Around A.D. 70 the day of HIS wrath arrived and GOD's fury was unleashed on the still unrepentant nation of Israel. All that Yeshua had foretold to his disciples came swiftly and suddenly. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed along with her magnificent temple, not a stone remaining upon another. Israel as a nation ceased to exist. Jews throughout the Roman Empire were slaughtered in vast numbers.
The believers were gathered together into heaven, as foretold by Paul (2 THESSALONIANS 2:1), while many of those who had rejected Yeshua and His disciples were gathered together into the the great winepress of the wrath of GOD (REVELATION 14:19). After the dust had settled, most everyone who had witnessed the ministries of Yeshua and His disciples were gone. Nearly all of them were either dead or in heaven. Thus, aside from the writings which His disciples left behind, there were few eyewitnesses of the events which had transpired.
As the years passed and others picked up and began to read and believe the Gospel, few if any were around who could describe for them exactly how certain events transpired, nor about the many details which we today find buried within scripture. They had no living examples to show them how to live righteously, so they created a kaleidoscope of doctrines which were part Christian and part pagan. This is why many Church Traditions are so far off the mark when it comes to the accuracy of the Bible.
This Parousia in 70 A.D., is also why not for many years after the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple, do we hear of any Christian writer lamenting its loss. Hardly anyone of the first and second centuries has anything at all to say about this most colossal event in the history of the Church. This deafening silence speaks loudly to us, I think. We must account for it somehow and the obvious reason for the silence is that there were no believers around because they had all been gathered together into heaven. To read more on this, see Whatever Happened to Timothy?
- Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Texts.
As far back as we can discern, the Scriptures of the Jewish Bible were for the most part originally written in the Hebrew language. Around the third century B.C., these Hebrew scriptures began to be translated into Greek, usually referred to today as The Septuagint. Initially, just the first five books (GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS and DEUTERONOMY) were translated, but as time went on other books followed.
The reason for these Greek translations was probably because the Jews which were dispersed throughout the nations had become less fluent in their native languages of Hebrew and Aramaic and had become more inclined to speak the more common Greek, which was the language of the so called civilized world. The Jews of Palestine spoke primarily Hebrew and Aramaic but many Jews of the Dispersion had adopted the Greek language.
By the time of Christ, this Greek translation of the Jewish Bible had become so established, that we find it the more commoner choice of Christian writers. As a result, most of the prophecies quoted in the Christian Scriptures were from the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible rather than the Hebrew or Aramaic copies.
In contrast to the prophecies from the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) which are found in the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) being from the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible), our English copies of this same Jewish Bible have more often been translated from the Hebrew rather than from the Greek. In other words, our modern copies of the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) are taken from the Hebrew, but many of the prophecies in the Christian Scriptures are taken from its Greek translation rather than from the original Hebrew. This is why when we look up some particular Old Testament prophecy quoted in the Christian Scriptures, its wording often is substantially different. To read more on this, see Notes on the Septuagint, by R. Grant Jones.
Because the Greek Septuagint was originally translated from the Hebrew, one might be led to suppose that the Hebrew would be more accurate; but this is not necessarily the case. Today's english Old Testament was translated from an entirely different Hebrew text (called the Masoretic), which was written long after the Greek Septuagint was translated.
Thus, we are safe to assume that whatever ancient Hebrew text the Septuagint was translated from, it was often more accurate than the later Masoretic text from which today's english Old Testament is translated. This is a safe assumption, because of the fact that the writers of the Christian Scriptures trusted the Greek Septuagint translation more often then they trusted the other translations of that age. This assumption is also substantiated by the discovery of the long lost texts called The Dead Sea Scrolls, as they tend to favor the Greek Septuagint over the Hebrew Masoretic.
For many years it has been believed that during the age of the early Church, when the Gospels and epistles were being written, copied and distributed, that Hebrew was a dead language. It was put forth that few spoke it and fewer still could write it. It has been suggested that instead Aramaic was the common tongue in Palestine, especially rural Palestine, while Greek was more common in the urban areas and outside Palestine. But now we have strong evidence that Hebrew was very alive, and was the prevailing language in Judea and possibly throughout all of Palestine.
Nearly all of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in Hebrew, along with all of the inscriptions found in the temple. The ancient historian Josephus declared that when he addressed the people, that he spoke in Hebrew. The apostle Paul stated that when Yeshua called him to the ministry, that He spoke in the Hebrew tongue (ACTS 26:14). And further, that when Paul himself spoke to quiet the mob in the temple, that he spoke in this same Hebrew tongue (ACTS 21:40). When Pilate had the superscription written and placed over the crucified Savior, it was written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew (LUKE 23:38 & JOHN 19:20).
Howbeit, if the Greek speaking believers wanted to compare the original writings of Moses and the prophets with that which the apostles were teaching in Hebrew and Aramaic, it was necessary for them to have Greek copies of the apostle's teachings, which they could then compare with their Greek Septuagint.
Even though Yeshua probably taught His disciples in Hebrew and Aramaic, the texts we have of the Christian Scriptures are practically all in Greek. This means that although we might be confident that we are reading the original Greek, we cannot just assume that we are always reading an accurate record of what He taught in Hebrew or Aramaic. A good example of this is when He taught about a camel going through the eye of a needle (MATTHEW 19:24). The Greek reads camel, but the Aramaic can read camel or rope. When the ancient writer translated his manuscript from the original Aramaic, he mistakenly wrote camel instead of rope, and so that is how we have it today in our English Bibles. To read more on this, go here.
Perhaps another reason we have so many ancient Greek manuscripts today and hardly any Hebrew or Aramaic survive, is because in 70 A.D. when the Romans defeated the nation of Israel, they tended to destroy most all of her culture. Anything found written in their ancient languages of Hebrew or Aramaic was often immediately destroyed without regard to its contents. Howbeit, many Greek manuscripts which were found were often passed over and spared.
Besides, there were many Gentile believers outside the land of Israel who had no doubt possessed Greek copies of the epistles and Gospels which were not in the hands of the Jews. These Greek manuscripts were passed on to later generations and then re-copied. Thus, as the centuries passed, it was the Greek manuscripts which survived, giving us the vast number which we possess today.
These ancient Greek texts of the Bible resided in Monasteries and public or private libraries of the East for hundreds of years, until around 1453 when the Turks invaded Constantinople and conquered the Greek empire. Then many of the Jewish and Greek scholars fled the slaughter by journeying west, deeper into Europe. With them they brought many of these ancient texts which would prove to have an important impact on the scholars of the following generations.
A few chance discoveries in the Middle East have been made over the centuries where some ancient manuscripts had been hidden away. These along with the texts in the European libraries is from where we get the resources we have today.