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How We Got The Bible
C.G. "Colly" Caldwell
(via The Preceptor, December 1988, used by permission of author)

The books of the Old and New Testament have been tested by various means to determine that they ought to be accepted as having been inspired. They also have been carefully preserved to insure that what we have today is what was given originally by God.

Sharing Inspired Writings in the First Century

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. In Palestine during the first century A.D., many people spoke both languages. By the time of Christ, the Old Testament had also been translated into Greek. That translation is called the Septuagint Version. Since Greek was the dominant language throughout the Mediterranean world of that day, most people could read the Scriptures.

Although most epistles were written to specific persons or churches, they were meant to become the common possession of all (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:2; 1 Peter 1:1; Colossians 4:16). Persons or churches who received the inspired letters of the apostles had certain obligations to the writings:

  • They were obligated to recognize and accept the authority and inspiration of the writing (2 Corinthians 12:11-12; 10:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • They were obligated to share it with others (Colossians 4:16). They could have given or loaned their original letter to the other brethren or they could have made copies. The evidence suggests that copies were made and the messages were spread among the churches.

The original epistles were authenticated by signatures (2 Thessalonians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 16:21; etc.). They were also sent by friends of the authors who were known to the churches (2 Corinthians 8:18; Romans 16:4; etc.). The brethren could therefore have total confidence in what they read.

Do We Have the Right Books?

"Can we know that the books which have been included in the Bible are truly inspired?" The "canon" (collection or list of books) of the Bible has been determined by carefully studied evidence which has been collected by answering the follow questions on each book.

  • Is the information in the book consistent with that in other accepted books?
  • Does the information form a harmonious, complete, and coordinated whole with the other books?
  • Does the book claim inspiration?
  • Does the book contain the information necessary to support or confirm claims of inspiration
  • Was the book written by a prophet, an apostle, or one so closely connected with them that there is no question of the availability of inspiration?
  • Does the content of the book connect with the content of other accepted books establishing consistency of teaching, history, prophecy, etc.?
  • Does the book reflect (and not contradict) the facts as recorded in other Scripture?
  • Is there complete accuracy in data: historical, prophetical, geographical, and chronological?
  • Does Jesus confirm the information in the book?
  • Do other New Testament writers confirm it?
  • Did Jesus, the apostles, the early church, or the original recipients accept the book as inspired?

Were the Books Carefully Preserved?

The Jews were especially concerned about keeping precious documents. They reverently buried original manuscripts or worn copies and replaced them with tested, reliable copies. A group of Jewish scribes (called Massoretes) was especially dedicated to preserving the Old Testament. They devised a system of vowels and accents to protect the sounds of the spoken Hebrew. They also developed ways to protect against errors in copying. They numbered verses. They even numbered the words and letters within the verses. They counted the number of times each letter appeared in each book. Then they calculated the middle verse, the middle world, and the middle letter of each book. After the books were copied, they would count the verses, words, and letters to see if any had been left out of the text.

Another Jewish sect (called Essenes) lived out near the Dead Sea. They were so fearful that the invasions of the Romans would destroy their literature that they preserved their document libraries in sealed clay pots and buried them in caves to protect them. The Dead Sea Scrolls have been discovered (the first cave containing scrolls was found by a shepherd boy in 1947). They contain Biblical manuscripts containing at least fragments of every book in the Old Testament except Esther. They contain a complete copy of Isaiah. These copies verify that these texts have not been significantly changed by copyists in the past 2000 years.

In 1980, the silver scrolls containing the oldest known fragments of the Biblical text (sections from Numbers 6:24-26) were found by Gabriel Barkay in a tomb just outside the city of Jerusalem. The scrolls date to the period just before the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the temple in 587 B.C.. These finds predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by 400 years.

Well over 5000 New Testament manuscripts or fragments have now been found. Gordon Fee identified 5338 Greek manuscripts in 1978. In addition to the manuscripts, hundred of copies of translations, versions, commentaries containing quotations from Scripture, and Biblical quotations in other literature verify that what we have today is what they had in the first century.

In contrast to this massive evidence, we should remember that there are only ten known early copies of Caesar (none earlier than 900 A.D.), seven copies of Plato (none earlier than 900 A.D.), and five copies of Aristotle (none earlier than 1100 A.D.). Scholars seemingly have no trouble accepting these copies as authentic, but will not accept the Bible.

Sir Frederic Kenyon who served for twenty-one years as the director of the British Museum was one of the foremost scholars of the Biblical text. He said:

It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain; especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.

Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31). While He had primary reference to the authority of what He said, it is true that His word has been preserved and protected by God's providence through the centuries. We can depend upon it as accurate. Our problem is not whether we have the Scriptures but whether we will follow them.

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