How We Got the Old Testament
Understanding the Old Testament Lesson #001
January 2, 2000
Father, we do thank you for Your Word that You have given us, clear instruction, clear revelation about Who You are, Your Plan, Your Purposes for human history. Father, You have declared the end from the beginning and You have clearly communicated to us, and You have given us Your Holy Spirit to help us to understand Your revelation. Now, Father, as we study Your Word, this morning particularly, in relationship to how You have revealed it and preserved it for us; we pray that we may have our conscience strengthened as we see Your remarkable plan unfold. We pray this in Jesus Name, Amen.
This morning we are going to begin a new study in relation to the Old Testament. It is important to look at the Old Testament. I think that most Christians today are woefully ignorant of the Old Testament. The Scripture says some very profound things about the Old Testament. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, we read, "that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Paul is writing to Timothy. He reminds him that he, Timothy, through his mother and his grandmother, was taught the Scriptures from infancy. Notice he refers to Scriptures as "the sacred writings." Throughout the Scripture, the New Testament, we see the emphasis that there is a body of literature called sacred writings, the Scriptures, the Holy Scriptures, and the Word of God. Now when Timothy was a child, nothing in the New Testament had been written. So, when Paul says in childhood these sacred writings, he is talking about the Old Testament Canon that was available to Timothy. The very fact that he uses the phrase sacred writings indicates that there was an assumed Canon of Scripture at that time that was authoritative, and he says about that in 2 Timothy 2:15 that these sacred writings are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. So he says of the Old Testament that it is able to give them all the information he needed to be saved and it pointed to Jesus Christ.
In 2 Timothy 2:16, we read, "All Scripture is inspired," which is the word THEOPNEUSTOS, which means 'breathed out by God.' "All Scripture" in this context refers not just to the New Testament, but when we realize that Paul wrote this in about AD 62, only 16 of the 27 New Testament books had been written. The primary application of this is to Old Testament Canon, not to the New Testament. So, when Paul says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." It certainly has application to the New Testament, but in terms of interpretation, which is what he had in mind when he wrote it, he was referring to what was available in the Old Testament Canon. Then we go to 1 Peter 1:20-21 and Peter writes, "But know this first of all that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation...." And so when he is talking about the "prophecy of Scripture" here, Peter is writing a little after Paul; so a little more of the New Testament has been written. But the Canon of the New Testament has not been completed. And so, in his mind, when he writes of the "prophecy of Scripture," he has in mind Old Testament Canon, not New Testament Canon.
And then in 1 Peter 1:21, he goes on to make the phenomenal statement related to the mechanics of inspiration, "for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will." In other words, this is not man's writings about God or his experiences with God, but it is God so governing the individual human authors of Scripture, so that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God guaranteed that what they wrote reflected absolute truth and He preserved it from error. So this gives us a clear statement of Divine Inspiration and Inerrancy related to Old Testament revelation. The fact that he (Paul) uses the term "Scripture" assumes that between himself and his audience there is a body of literature that is considered authoritative for the Christian life; that certain books, certain writings, were included within that (body of literature) and certain ones were excluded. For the very use of this term, as we'll see, by Jesus, by the disciples, and the apostles, assumed during the New Testament that there was a closed Canon of the Old Testament and it was common knowledge what that Canon was.
Now, what I want to do in this first hour, as we begin our study of the Old Testament, is to look at the foundation, which is really understanding the Canon of the Old Testament. We want to ask, "How did this come about?" And exactly, "What is the extent of the Old Testament Canon?" And how well has it been transmitted to us? Especially when we think of the fact that some of the writings in the Old Testament, for example the Pentateuch, the first five books, Genesis to Deuteronomy, were written by Moses in about 1400 BC, that was some almost 3,500 years ago. "How well has that been communicated to us?" "Has the text been preserved?" So we want to ask basic questions about understanding the text of the Old Testament and how accurate it is; and the next time we will start to look at God's plan for glorifying Himself through the creation of the universe and the human race we are just going to work our way through the Old Testament; we're not going to look at every incident, that would take lengthy time; but I want to give you an understanding, not just simply what were the stories.
To some degree I am going to assume that you have a basic knowledge of the Old Testament. At least get a paraphrase and read it. I remember when I was in college; I was woefully ignorant of the Old Testament. At that time there was a thing called BC, the Reader's Digest version of the Old Testament. It was the Living Bible. It cut out a lot and brought it down to about 400 pages. It was simple to read and I read through it in just a matter of days. I got a framework for what was going on in the Old Testament: who the major players were, what the themes were, and what the events were. But I am not going to look at this so much in terms of what the stories were, but try to tell what they mean, what their significance is, and a sort of theology of the Old Testament. And if we look at that, we'll see that the unifying concept in the Old Testament is the Kingdom of God and its glorification.
We see that God steps into a sinful cosmos, a universe that has already been judged for sin because of the fall of Satan and the fallen angels; and it begins with the redemptive act of God. So that even from the starting point in Genesis 1 we see that the work of God, the outworking of the theme of God in human history, is redemptive. And there is a salvation theme working throughout the Old Testament from its very inception. We will see that in creation God begins His first act of salvation and the entire Old Testament works out that redemptive plan. Psalm 74:12 states that, "For God is my King of old," focusing on the Kingdom idea, "working salvation in the midst of the earth." That God is the one who took the initiative to redeem creation after the angelic fall and that God continually takes the initiative in human history to redeem mankind to provide a gracious solution to man's problems. So we will tie all of this together and see how it all works; and when we get through, it will take about three of four months, then we will start a study of Judges. So, we need to have a framework for understanding the Old Testament.
Now, one of the mistakes I think that people make, a common misunderstanding, is that there is no missionary thrust in the Old Testament. But what you will see is that Israel is a missionary thrust. In the New Testament we have the Church and the Lord's command to the Church is to scatter and go out. In Acts 1:8 they were told to move from Jerusalem to Judea and to the uttermost parts of the world, but Israel was to stay in one location. And if you look at a map and look at the caravan routes; all the caravan routes of the world intersected in Judea. They were to be a missionary to the world and God would bring the world to Israel; and by taking a stand for the Lord and teaching the truth, then these Gentiles that came from all over the world would hear the truth and take it back with them to various countries. Of course, we see that Israel continually failed in that (command) and that is one reason why God disciplined them by scattering them out among all the nations.
Now one of the other things we will see in this, is that the problem that we will see today, that when people start off with evangelism they immediately jump to Jesus. They immediately start talking about the fact that you need to trust Christ as your Savior without laying any foundation. Think of how God evangelized the world. The incarnation did not take place at the beginning of human history. You have Adam's sin and then God's initial promise of salvation in Genesis 3, where He in His person promises that not only would man be cursed in sin, but God would provide a perfect solution. In that we see Eve, her seed; God says to Adam and Eve, "Your seed will crush the head of the serpent." But it's not her son, the first, second, or third generation… (that) did not see the fulfillment of that promise.
Why is it that God waited almost 4,000 years plus before He provided a Savior? Because God had to lay the groundwork; He had to provide the foundation. When we witness to people we say that you have to believe in Jesus, Who died for your sins? We immediately are raising concepts that the hearer may not understand. We talk about the fact that Jesus is God, that He is the God-Man. Well how do you know what God is? Their concept of God may not be the Biblical concept of God. So the foundation is laid by going into the Old Testament. It is there in seeing how God works with the human race as a whole and Israel, specifically starting in Genesis 12, that we learn who God is and come to understand His character. So that when Jesus comes along in the incarnation we have an understanding of His significance. But without the Old Testament as a prelude to that, then Jesus is rather meaningless; He is just another figure in human history. So we are going to look at the Old Testament and put all of that together.
So let's begin this morning with a look at the Old Testament Canon and how we got it. We will cover three things:
1. First of all, the arrangement of the Canon.
2. Secondly, the division of the Canon.
3. And third, the extent and the transmission of the Canon.
Now the word 'Canon' means a rule or standard. It is from the Greek word KANON and it originally referred to a measuring rod or reed used to measure things. It came to refer to "a rule or a standard." It is not 'cannon;' it is written in English as 'Canon'. It has to do with describing that set of writings that are authoritative for the spiritual life. We will talk about both the Hebrew Canon, which the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and a small portion of it was written in Aramaic, Daniel 2:4 – Daniel 7 was written in Aramaic; and Ezra 4-6 plus a couple of odd verses here and there was written in Aramaic.
All the writers of the Old Testament were Jewish, and the Old Testament was transmitted and copied by Jews. They developed a group called the 'scribes' who were responsible for the transmission of the text. And over the years they developed certain rules and triterians to preserve the text and protect it, eventually culminating in a group that became known as the Masoretes in the Early Middle Ages. The Masoretes developed various rules for preserving the vowel points, for example, in Hebrew there are no vowel points. It is a consonantal language, so you would have a verb bara without the vowels…. By changing the vowels, you would change the pronunciation of the word. If you did not have the vowel points there, you might not be able to know just what the word was. So the Masoretes developed the system of these dots and dashes to put under the consonants to preserve the reading of the text.
So what we have today that underlies your Old Testament translations is what is referred to as the Masoretic Text, abbreviated MT. Up until recently, the oldest copy of the Masoretic Text that we had dated back to about AD 1008. In the Old Testament all the writers were Jewish. As they collected the books that were written by Moses and the Prophets they arranged them into three divisions according to the office of the writer. That is the difference between the English Canon and the Hebrew Canon. In the Old Testament Hebrew they divided everything according to the office of the writer; for example, if the writer were a prophet, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc… (the prophet's writings) were categorized among the prophets. Moses stood by himself; he was the author of the Pentateuch. And then there were the 'Writings.'
So there were three basic divisions in the Hebrew Canon and we will look at those. These are divided into three groups: the torah, nebht'im, and kethubhi'm. The torah basically means "the Law or Instruction." The nebht'im is from the Hebrew word that means "prophets." The "im" ending is a plural ending; and the kethubhi'm is the writing. The torah consisted of Genesis through Deuteronomy. The nebht'im was divided into two groups, the early prophets, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings; now in the Hebrew Bible they do not divide between the 1st and 2nd. Those divisions came because the book was so long that it had to go on two different scrolls. So it came to be divided in the SEPTUAGINT and later in the other translations; but in the original Hebrew it was arranged into the early prophets and the later prophets. The minor prophets were just lumped together in one group, 'he Twelve.' The former prophets all had a unique ministry.
We don't know exactly who wrote those books. We know that Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy, but don't know who wrote Joshua through Kings. We know there was the school of the prophets, especially Shiloh. Samuel was a prophet. You had other prophets, such as Gad and Nathan; you had Elijah and Elisha later on and they headed up the school of prophets. It was very likely that they kept at that location the scrolls that were handed down, and they continued to keep records. We know from reading the Old Testament that there were other sources that did not survive, that we do not have available to us today, and they apparently used these as resources as they wrote the Scripture. And then over time a prophet would finalized a copy of the text and that would not be dealt with any longer. Among the later prophets you have a distinction that Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, all had personal encounters with God; and they were given tremendous revelation about the future and about God's plan for mankind. And we see that in their meeting with God that it was an overwhelming experience for them. Isaiah met God and as he saw God and fell before Him; he realized how impotent man was and all man's self assertion against God was nothing but a sham. They saw that Israel was destined for ruin and judgment because of the way they treated God's Word; they treated it so lightly.
The kethubhi'm these are the writings. The authors were not prophets, even so the Psalms were written by David, he did not hold the office of prophet; he had the office of King. He did not hold the office of prophet. Proverbs was written by Solomon who was also a king. Job was written by someone unknown. We cannot call him a prophet; we do not even know if he was Jewish; he probably wasn't. Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible and probably took place somewhere between the flood and the call of Abraham. The Song of Solomon is written by Solomon, who was a king. Ecclesiastes was also written by Solomon. Daniel was written by a statesman. He was a prime minister; so Daniel gave a tremendous amount of prophesy and was a prophet, but he did not hold that office. He was second in command in the Persian Empire. He was elevated to the position not unlike a prime minister under Nebuchadnezzar, but he did not have the position or hold the office of prophet.
Ezra and Nehemiah were priests and probably wrote the books named for them as well as other priests wrote the book of Chronicles. We are not sure who wrote Esther; it could have been written by any of the priests at that particular time, so it is grouped among the writings. So this is how the Jews grouped the Bible, arranged the Books in the Hebrew Old Testament, for the torah, nebht'im, and kethubhi'm. So the first Book in the Hebrew Bible is Genesis and the last Book in the Hebrew Old Testament is Chronicles. Depending on how they arranged things; for example, we have Ruth; Ruth is usually assigned to Judges. Lamentations is usually included along with Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible; sometimes it is separate, sometimes it is connected. So, depending on who you read, there are either 22 or 24 Books in the Hebrew Old Testament. Now that is significant and we will see why in a few minutes.
Now, in the English Bible the text is divided into five sections:
1. The Law, Books of the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy.
2. Historical Books, the English Old Testament groups books according to their subject matter. So these historical books from Joshua through Esther are covering the history of Israel in the Old Testament.
3.Then you have your Poetic Books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, which is the correct title, not the Song of Solomon, and Lamentation.
4. Then you have the Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and in the English Daniel was considered a Major Prophet.
5. And then you have the Twelve Minor Prophets.
Now this is the Canon; these are the books that have made their way into our Old Testament. But what about other books? You need to ask the question about the Canon, 'What do we mean by the Canon?' There is a problem with the Canon and that is, what is it's extent. Are we sure that these are the only books that should be included in the Canon or should there be other books?
The Canon are those books that authoritatively reveal the plan, the purposes, and the priorities of God for the human race (repeats.) Now I say it that way because frequently you will hear it defined as, "those books that are authoritative of faith and practice." When you hear that you ought to be aware of what is not said and not what is said. The 'faith and practice' is restrictive. What about history; what about biology; what about the military or other things that might not relate to 'faith and practice' that are somewhat in general to the text?
So what we are saying is that it is the Word of God, because it is inspired by God, and infallible, and authoritatively, reveals the plans, purposes, and priorities of God in every arena of life for the human race. This is the basic difference between liberalism, and liberal theology, and conservative theology. Liberalism basically says that the Bible is not the Word from God, but it is the 'human' word about God. According to liberal concepts, man decided what would be in the Canon.
The conservative view is that man recognized The Book that had inherent authority. If you take the time to read the debated books that are written in the Apocrypha, you can immediately see some of the differences. You can just tell, it is sort of like when you run into a person who has a sense of authority about him, somebody who has been in the military for 30 years and has a command presence; and he walks into a room, he immediately has a persona and takes charge and you follow him instinctively because this is a man who has leadership. You recognize it; and the same thing is true about the Canon of Scripture. It is that these Books are recognized as having authority; they are not given authority by a group of people.
Often when you talk about the Canon of the Old Testament people will say that well the Rabbis just picked those books and it was decided at the Council of Jamnia, which occurred about AD 90, twenty years after the fall of Jerusalem. And as we will see, that is a completely false notion. But, if you get into a conversation with someone, who has read a few things, they will come up with that charge. They will say that this is just something that the Jews came up with, but we will see that this is not true. The question we have to ask is: "What is the extent of the Canon and how can we not be sure that there aren't other books that ought to be in the Canon?"
There has never been a consensus among all Christians as to what should be in the Canon. For example the Roman Catholics also include a group of books called Apocrypha. Eastern Orthodox and Syrian Churches also include various books that are not included as part of the Protestant Canon of Scripture. So we want to look at this whole issue of the Apocrypha. The term Apocrypha means "hidden, obscure or spurious." These are the books that are included as part of the Apocrypha: Tobit, Judith, six editions to the Book of Esther. These are all included in the (Eastern Orthodox) Old Testament. If you look in a Dewy version of the Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible or some other Roman Catholic version, you will see that Tobias and Judith are included after the book of Nehemiah. There are six editions in the Book of Esther; Wisdom of Solomon, and another book called the book of the Wisdom of Jesus, (also called other names); Baruch, a Letter of Jeremiah, usually included in part of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Azariah and the Songs of Three Young Men, which is usually included in Daniel, inserted between Daniel 3:23 and Daniel 3:24; and then another work Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, which is either put as a preface to Daniel or at the end of Daniel, as Daniel 13; and then the last two books are 1st and 2nd Macabees, which are historical books that describe the Intertestamental period that went on between the Old Testament and New Testaments.
Regarding the Apocrypha, Bruce Metzger, I am not sure if he is still alive, but he was the Head of the New Testament Department at Princeton, and a fairly well known textual critic and scholar. He writes in the Introduction to the Oxford Annotated Apocrypha the following:
"At the end of the 4th century Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome, the most learned Biblical scholar of his day, to prepare the standard Latin version of the Scriptures; [and this is what has become known as the Latin Vulgate. So this is around AD 390-395.] In the Old Testament Jerome followed the Hebrew Canon and by means of prefaces called the reader's attention to the separate categories of the Apocrypha books; [so he recognized clearly that there was an Old Testament Canon. He accepted as Canonical only the Old Testament Canon, and yet, by means of a preface he said that these other books had been included because they did have some helpful information and they are good to read, but they are not part of the Canon. So even though Jerome translated the Vulgate and included the Apocrypha by means of his prefaces, he rejected it (Apocrypha) as Canonical. He wrote that "anything outside of these 39 Old Testament books, what we have in the English Canon, must be placed within the Apocrypha."] Now, Metzger goes on to say, "subsequent copyist of the Latin Bible, however, were not always careful to transmit Jerome's prefaces; in other words, over the years, those prefaces that excluded that (the Apocrypha) dropped out. So that it looks to every reader that these were a part of the Canon of the Old Testament. During the medieval period the Western Church generally regarded these books as part of the Holy Scriptures. [At one of the prolonged sessions, which occurred at the Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, with only 53 prelates present and not one of those was a scholar distinguished for historical learning.] The Council of Trent decreed that the Canon of the Old Testament includes all of the Apocrypha. [They excluded the Prayer of Manasseh and 1 and 2 Esdras.]
Now, what is significant about that is that at the end of their deliberations the Council of Trent, which was the Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent anathematized, means they cursed, anyone who "does not accept these entire books (Apocrypha) with all their parts as they have customarily been read in the Catholic Church and are found in the ancient editions of the Latin Vulgate as sacred and Canonical." So this group of unlearned scholars decided that because it was in the Latin Vulgate that it was authoritative and so that is how the Apocrypha came to be included in the Old Testament Canon.
Now what are the problems with the Apocrypha?
1. First of all, they were written predominately in Greek. Now some of them were not, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiaticus, part of Baruch and 1st Macabees were written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, but the rest were all written in Greek, which is quite different from the Hebrew or Aramaic Old Testament.
2. The second problem is that they were written late, after the Old Testament Canon was already closed. Now that is very important. It is clear from Jewish writing that the Old Testament Canon -- the Jews believed the Old Testament Canon was closed about 275 BC. The last book in the Old Testament was written about 350-325 BC, and it was not long after that they believed the Canon was closed and God was no longer speaking. So, these Apocrypha Books were written about 175-100 BC, after the Jews had already recognizing the closing of the Canon.
3. Third, there are a number of historical, geographical, and chronological errors in these books. For example, in Tobit 1:4-5 you read that the division of the kingdom under Jeroboam I, which occurred in 931 BC, occurred when Tobit was a young man. But Tobit is also said to have been a young Israelite captive living in Nineveh under Shalmaneser in the late 8th century -- that would be in the 700s, two hundred years later. This would make him a young man almost 200 years old at the time of the Assyrian captivity, and he lived into the reign of Esarhaddon, who reigned from AD 6 to AD 68. But according to Tobit 14:11, Tobit died when he was 158 years old and it says 102 in the Latin; so here is a major discrepancy of time in Tobit chapter one.
In Judith chapter one, there is a declaration that Nebuchadnezzar reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh at the time that Arphaxad reigned over the Medes in Ecbatana. The problem with that is that Nebuchadnezzar never reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh. He was the second king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. He wasn't an Assyrian and this person Arphaxad is completely unknown to history. Forth, there are various false doctrines in the Apocrypha; there are prayers and offerings for the dead in 2nd Macabees 12:43-45; giving money makes atonement for sin and also justifies cruelty to slaves in Ecclesiaticus 3:36-38; there is also the teaching of the preexistence of souls in the Wisdom of Solomon 8:18-20; and it also teaches the various emanations from God, which came into Gnosticism or was part of Gnosticism in the Wisdom of Solomon 7:25; there is also the support for the doctrine of Purgatory and various other doctrines that are unique to Roman Catholicism in the Apocrypha. So, if the Apocrypha books are to be accepted as part of the Old Testament Canon, you can see that it would change our whole theology and set of doctrines.
Now how do we resolve all this? Well we have to understand that the Jewish community consistently recognized either 22 or 24 books depending upon how you divide them up. There were three communities of Jews in the ancient world as you can see on this map. There was one community in Babylon that never returned after the Babylonian captivity; and in the Babylonian Talmud, which was written about AD 200, but reflects old traditions that go back much earlier; we can't say how far back they go, but we know that these traditions probably went back to at least the time of Christ if not to about 100 BC. In Baba Bathra we read the most ancient record with regard to the sequence to the book in the Hebrew Scriptures is that given in the Babylonian Talmud (this is taken from Ginsburg's Introduction to the Masoretical Text, writing about the Talmud.) He (Ginsburg) says: "The most ancient record with regard to the sequence of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures is that given in the Babylonian Talmud. Passing over the Pentateuch, over which there has never been any doubt, it is here laid down on the highest authority that the order is Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings; the basic order that we have in our Hebrew Bible." They consist of 22 or 24 books. And he (Ginsburg) says, "that that is the earliest listing among the Jewish communities." So the Babylonian community of Jews recognized the same 22 or 24 books that we have in our Old Testament Canon.
The second major community of Jews were in Palestine, which is called Judea. The Palestinian community is represented by Josephus, who affirmed that there were 22 books, and in 4 Esdras, which is also an Apocrypha or debated book that was written about the same time, toward the end of the first century. Josephus in the book Contra Apionem, which means "Against Apion," was in defense of Judaism to a Gentile, which was written about AD 70-80. Josephus writes, "But we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us that contradict and disagree with each other like the Gentiles have, but only 22 books, which contain the records of all the past times, which are justly believed to be divine, of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and traditions of the origin of mankind until his death, a little more than 3000 years. But as to the time of the death of Moses until the reign of Artaerxes, King of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes the prophets who were after Moses wrote down what was done in their time in 13 books. The remaining four books containing hymns to the God and the conduct of human life." So he divides the books up differently, but he still recognizes the same basic Old Testament that we have with 22 or 24 books. In Contra Apionem 1:8 he (Josephus) writes, "that the exact succession of the prophets was broken at about 300 BC."
Now the third major Jewish community was located in Alexandria and Philo was the Jewish historian who lived in Alexandria. He represents that Egyptian community and he writes about the same time as our Lord lived. He recognized the same 22 or 24 books. So here you have three distinct Jewish communities in the Intertestamental period that are geographically separated. They can't send emails back and forth to one another; they don't have FAX machines; they don't even have a pony express rider running back and forth delivering information. They are completely isolated; yet they each come to the same conclusion, that there are only 22 or 24 books that are authoritative from God.
Now next we need to see how Jesus and the disciples handled the Old Testament Canon. First of all, they presuppose a definite Canon of Scripture by what they say. They use phrases like, "It is written" and "The Scriptures," "The Holy Scripture," "The Holy Writings," "The Sacred Writings," all presuppose a set group of writings for the Old Testament that are Canonical. This is the same group that was accepted by the Jewish community. They never dispute with the Pharisees or the Sadducees over what consist of Scripture. Jesus, the disciples, the Pharisees, the Sadducees all believe in the same group of books that are the Scripture. They simply assume that some books were authoritative and other books were not authoritative, and they further assumed that everyone understood what they were talking about. So there is no reason to debate the Canon as far as the Jesus and the disciples are concerned. Secondly, Jesus recognized the same threefold division in Luke 24:34, when He is on the Road to Emmaus and He appears to His disciples on the Road to Emmaus and begins to explain to them, it says, "And He said to them, 'These were the words I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms.'"
These are the three divisions of the Hebrew Canon. We have looked at them already, the Law is the torah, the Prophets are the nebht'im and in the collective Writings, the kethubhi'm, the first book was Psalms, so it was often referred to (that whole section was referred to) as the Psalms. The Apocrypha incidentally was never listed in any Jewish compilation of the kethubhi'm; they were never included in any compilation of the Old Testament. So Jesus here recognizes the three divisions that were accepted by the Jews in terms of the organization of the Scriptures. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus is confronting the Pharisees and making some very interesting statements. He says, "that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar."
Now why does Jesus say from Abel to Zechariah? Now it is not A to Z. He is not using an English alphabet. He's got a Hebrew alphabet and it is in a different order. Now He cannot be thinking chronologically here. That is how we approach it; we think in terms of chronology. Because Zechariah is not the last prophet martyred chronologically in the Old Testament. The record of the assassination of Zechariah is found in 2 Chronicles 24:20 and it occurred about 825 BC. But he is not the last prophet slain in the Old Testament chronologically. Uriah was slain in 600 BC 220 years later according to Jeremiah 26:20-23. So why did Jesus focus on Zechariah? Because He is looking at the list in terms of the Canon.
Remember what I said earlier, the Old Testament Canon began with Genesis, but the last book in the Canon was 2Chronicles. In 2Chronicles 24:20 we have the murder of Zechariah. So the murder of Abel is in Genesis 4 and the murder of Zechariah is the last in the Canon of the Old Testament. So Jesus is saying, from the 'beginning' of the Old Testament to the end of the Old Testament you have consistently rejected My prophets and killed them. So this again emphasizes the fact that indicates that Jesus accepted the Jewish Canon as it stood at that particular time. Further, New Testament writers never quote from the disputed books; and if you read through books like Ecclesiaticus and the Wisdom of Solomon, you will see that there are a number of interesting parallels to Paul's talk; there are a number of very good things that are said there, but no writer in the New Testament ever quotes from these disputed books. Now Jude quotes from a book called Enoch, which was never disputed; it was never questioned, nobody ever considered including it in the Canon, so that is not the issue. He simply quotes from the Book of Enoch the way we would quote from another piece of literature to illustrate a point. So there are never quotations in the New Testament from the Apocryphal books.
Now when we look at the transmission of the Canon we need to look at some of the remarkable way God has preserved the Canon and how He has made it clear to us. So we will put a timeline up on the overhead and put the cross in the middle, about AD 33. Now the Masoretic Text, which is the oldest text that we have until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, which would have been after ben Asher Codex and was kept in the public library of Leningrad in Moscow until it was finally sold by the Russians.
Now how actively was this particular text transmitted? Especially when we realize that much of the Old Testament was written at least thirteen hundred years earlier and some of it was written as much as 2,400 years earlier if you go back to the Pentateuch. Wouldn't there be a lot of mistakes? In fact, at the time that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1948, most Protestant liberal theologians questioned the accuracy as a Masoretic Text. That was their presupposition, that many errors would have crept into the text and there would be many problems, and they much preferred the Septuagint or some other translations that could be dated back to about the time of Christ. But in 1948 a shepherd discovered in some caves in Qumran, down by the Dead Sea, a whole bunch of scrolls; and as they went through various caves they discovered a whole library from the community that lived there. These became known as the Dead Sea scrolls. They contain writings from about 250 BC up to AD 100. I spent some time perusing a book of a good friend of mine, named Randy Price, J. Randall Price, just wrote a book called The Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, published by Harvest House, and it is really fascinating all the things that went into the discovery of the scrolls and their theology and background. He gets a little technical at points, but it is a pretty thorough study, (the book is) about 2" thick. I can't imagine, that is about his 4th book on archeology and he has just done a fantastic job.
The New Testament, just to give you a frame of reference, the New Testament Canon was written from about AD 45 up to about AD 95. The Old Testament Canon was written from 1500 BC to about 350 BC. So there is a gap of about 100 years between the Old Testament Canon and the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is also interesting to note that in some of the Apocrypha works, for example, Judas Macabees in 2nd Macabees recognizes that the Canon of the Old Testament is closed. He has the same Canon and he recognizes the end of the prophetic gift -- and that is written about 175 BC. So it was clear that the Jews, even before Christ, recognized that the Canon was closed and that God had closed the doors of revelation about 300 BC.
Now, what did the Dead Sea Scrolls teach us? What did we learn about them? Well Weston Fields, who was the Director of Research on the Dead Sea Scrolls, wrote:
"With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we are brought back almost within a generation of the writing of the last book of the Bible. In fact, some Dead Sea Scrolls scholars puts the date back to 300 BC, which is within a few years of the closing of the Canon. The oldest scroll is conservatively dated at 250 BC and some would date the oldest one as early as 300 BC, there's probably only some 23 years or less between the time the last book was written and the earliest copies of the Hebrew Old Testament. This gives us a great deal more confidence about the text and the way it passed along, because we were able to compare what had been passed to us with the later copies that represent a very early text, with what we have in the scrolls, however fragmentary they might be. The scrolls revealed a number of interesting things about the accuracy of the Masoretic Text. Suddenly we had copies of the Old Testament that were a thousand to twelve hundred years earlier than what we already had, so we could compare them with one another. The importance of Qumran and the Dead Sea scrolls is that, first of all, it shows the history of the transmission of the text. We learn that there is a liberal as well as a conservative philosophy among the Jews in copying the text. In the Babylonian community they believed that if you understand it or not you still keep it the same. You (never, you) don't change anything; you don't tamper with the text (at all; this is sort of a philosophy like the translators of the New American Standard, very conservative.) In Palestine and in Egypt the view was to continually modernize the text—change the grammar, modernize the vocabulary, remove archaisms, smooth over any apparent discrepancies (sort of the philosophy of those who translated the NIV, it is a much looser translation.) The point is that by AD 100 the conservative philosophy won out. They were sanctioned by one of the most famous rabbis at the time (Rabbi Akiva) and so it was the conservative copies of the text that became the basis eventually for the Masoretic Text, and all of the copies of the Old Testament that reflected the liberal view, the looser view of copying the text, were destroyed and only the conservative ones were maintained."
Now the Qumran discoveries, authenticates the Masoretic Text, for example, Millar Burrows, Head of the School of Oriental Research, at the time wrote in his book Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls, that:
"In this state of affairs the discovery of the biblical manuscripts centuries older than the standard medieval manuscripts of the Old Testament is an event of major importance to textual criticism. Even though the discussion is somewhat technical we must assess the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls in this respect. The St. Mark's scroll, which came to be known as the great Isaiah scroll, is the only scroll that contains a whole book of the Bible, and with the exception of some of the small fragments it is the oldest of the manuscripts found in the caves. We may note the following: The age of the manuscripts does not indicate its importance. It may be older but that does not mean it is a good copy."
Now lets what we learned, what Burrows tells us about the Isaiah scroll, I think this is fascinating. In the Isaiah scroll, which was written about 200 BC, when its compared to the Masoretic Text there were about 200 variances (200 differences between the two scrolls.) In the late 1940s the translators of the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and Millar Burrows is on the RSV Executive Committee of Translation, had a more liberal bias and they came to the text doubting the Masoretic Text. They all believed that it had been corrupted to a large degree. So when they took the discoveries of the Qumran scrolls and compared the Isaiah scroll with the Masoretic Text, they concluded that the Masoretic Text was a product of a more conservative scroll and was a superior text to that found in Qumran. That it was clearly a more reliable text. After comparing and analyzing the 200 differences between the Qumran Text and the Masoretic Text, they rejected all but thirteen of the differences, 13 were accepted. But, about five years after the publication of the RSV, Millar Burrows wrote that he doubted the veracity, now, of most of those thirteen and wished they had not even made those changes. So that gives us confidence in the way God works in the preservation of the Old Testament to keep it free from error.
Note: Recently there has been a lot of publicity about so called "Hidden Codes" in the Old Testament. You had the books of the Bible code, history codes in the Bible, and even some Evangelicals have fallen into the trap of believing there is some kind of 'code.' Now the way these codes work is on the basic of what is called a 'number six code.' When you take a word for example in English you'd have a sentence like this... (overhead)… and you take out all the spaces and run everything together into one long line and it would go on and on and on. There would be no spaces. Then with computers, you can start running these to see if you can find something every so many numbers. This is called the number skip. You take a letter here and go over 4 letters and the over so many more and then you come up with words and you discover hidden codes. This is the number skip code.
Now the problem is that this presupposes a knowledge of the original text, and we do not have it. If you add in a letter you change the numerical sequence from that point on and from that point on you come up with different letters. There are no two ancient manuscripts that are identical. One reason for that is modernization of spelling. I mentioned at the beginning that the Masoretes developed a way of, for example, a consonant with vowel points. But by the time of Christ some Rabbis developed another system, where they used other vowels; for an example, an apostrophe looking thing, the yod ('), was used for an 'i' sound... Some writers would use one style of letters and the other another, and not two manuscripts agreed. So do not start thinking that there is hidden prophesies in the Bible... Translations are changed by those caught up in changing translations to vindicate these code beliefs... We can be confident that we have the Word of God and that it has been accurately transmitted to us, so starting from an inerrant infallible text we can come to understand accurately what God has to say to us.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed, Father, we thank You for the opportunity we've had to look at these things this morning, to have our confidence and strength in Your Word knowing that we do have Your Word that was written down centuries, millennia ago, and it has been preserved accurately for us at this time. And Father, we thank You for the way the Old Testament continually points the way to Jesus Christ and all the prophesy that there is salvation in no other than the promised Messiah of Israel. Father, we pray that if there is anyone here this morning without faith, without hope, without an understanding of eternal life, that we will take the opportunity to settle that right now. Salvation is based upon faith alone in Christ alone. It says there is no other Name under heaven whereby we must be saved. So how are you saved? Simply by faith in Jesus Christ. The Scripture says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." So right now, sitting where you are, all you have to do is make a decision; do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins? If so, you have eternal life, from this point on you can never loose it; it is yours forever and ever and guarantees an eternal destiny in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ. Now Father, we thank you for the things we have studied this morning and pray that you would encourage us with them and strengthen our walk with You as a result of this. We pray in Jesus' Name, Amen.
TORAH, NEBHI'IM, and KETHUBHI'M.