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Sun, Apr 18, 1999

45 - How We Got the Bible

by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 4 secs

How We Got the Bible
John Lesson #04
April 18, 1999

People ask the question: How can we really trust the Bible? Primarily we know this because of the self-authenticating authority of Scripture. We don't know it because of some external authority. If Jesus Christ and God are the highest authorities in the universe they do not appeal to some other external authority. There is nothing else that they can appeal top other than themselves. But as believers we do not put our brains in neutral, we do not park our cognitive function and just believe something in spite of all evidence. There is evidence that relates to the Scripture as the Word of God and the truth of God, and so we need to evaluate that evidence and look at it. This is not to prove Scripture as true but it is evidence that it is the truth and the Word of God.

On 1809 Napoleon in his conquests conquered Italy and the Vatican. He exiled the pope to a small town in France and he transferred the library of the Vatican to France. It took fifty wagons to carry all of that library away and included in that library was an ancient Greek manuscript that had virtually been for gotten. It remained in France until 1815, and with the defeat of Napoleon it was finally returned to the Vatican library where the Roman Catholic authorities kept it under lock and key hoping that this rediscovered treasure would be quickly forgotten.

In 1845 a brilliant young English scholar, a man who had no formal training but was self-taught in Greek and Hebrew, as well as other languages, applied for permission to investigate this find in the Vatican library. His name was Samuel Tragelles. He was unable to get permission to spend a lot of time with this manuscript. In fact, the Vatican put every obstacle they could in his path. He was not allowed to go into the room with the manuscript for more than six hours, could not take pen or paper with him, and while he looked at it two clerics stood at his right shoulder and left shoulder guarding the manuscript, and if he spent more time than they thought he should on any particular passage they reached over and turned the page. He was allowed only six hours to examine the text but when he left he knew that he had seen one of the most remarkable evidences of how God had preserved the Bible, for he knew that he had looked upon an early copy of the Scriptures that could be dated back to the fourth century AD. It would be over twenty years before this manuscript could be viewed again and when it was it was viewed by another remarkable scholar of that era, a Prussian count by the name of Constantine von Tischendorf. He knew quite a number of languages and was responsible for the discovery of several ancient manuscripts. But when he went to the Vatican and they finally gave him permission he was allowed only 14 days to view the manuscript at three hours a day. Once again there were clerics standing at his right and left shoulders to make sure he didn't look too long at any particular passage, but Tischendorf had a photographic memory. As he paged through the Bible each day for three hours he memorized the text, went home and wrote it down. The next year in 1867 he published his copy, an edition of that manuscript, and this forced the Vatican to finally publish the copy in 1881. This is one of the more exciting episodes in the story of how we got the Bible and how we can be sure that this Bible that we have is an accurate rendition of the original revelation of God.

We need to remember the important principle that if there is not God nothing matters, but if there is a God nothing else matters. Corollary #1 to that is, if God has not spoken we can know nothing because everything would then be relative and there would be no knowledge whatsoever, but if God has spoken that opens the door to all knowledge. Therefore, nothing in life is more important than knowing the Word of God, absolutely nothing.

We talk about the canon of Scripture. The word "canon" derives from the Greek word kanona [kanwona] which has as its root meaning a rule involving a standard for conduct. kanona means a rule or a principle, so it came to be applied to a standard of conduct. It came to have a technical meaning as an objective rule or standard given by God and it is inherent in the very concept of inspiration. Once we begin to talk about the fact that there are some books that are inspired and some that are not we immediately invoke a standard. We assume a standard, that there are some that are from God and some that are not. So what is the standard for determining what is canonical and what is not. So that is involves a concept of a certain list of books that meet certain tests or rules and by definition is authoritative. Necessarily the very concept of a canon means that it is limited, that there are some books that fit the standard and most others do not.

He first thing we need to emphasize in our study of the word "canon" and "canonicity" is that the concept of inspiration must precede an understanding of canonicity. What do we mean by inspiration? The Greek word for inspiration is theopneustos [qeopneustoj]. It is a compound word: theo = God; pneustos = spirit or breath, and it means God-breathed, emphasising the origin of Scripture. The liberal concept of Scripture is that it is man's record of his spiritual encounters with God. The Bible claims that it is not man's record of his encounters with God but it is God's revelation of Himself to mankind. The term "inspiration" is defined as:

God the Holy Spirit so supernaturally directed the human writers of Scripture that without waiving their human intelligence, vocabulary, individuality, literary style, personality or personal feelings, or any other human factor, His complete and coherent message to mankind was recorded without error in any subject it addresses in the original languages of Scripture, the very words bearing the authority of divine authorship.

This definition emphasises the fact that it is God the Holy Spirit who is the ultimate author of Scripture. He doesn't override their volition but He controls it in such a way that he prevents the output from having error. 2 Tim 3:16, 17 NASB "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Peter 1:20, 21 gives the mechanics: NASB "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is {a matter} of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

1)  The canon, once it is complete, is sufficient; it is enough, we don't need anything else. Sufficient means that God has given us everything we need to know in order to live the spiritual life and to solve whatever problems we may encounter in life. The canon is all that is necessary and communicates everything man requires to live on earth and to have salvation, to grow to spiritual maturity and to have maximum happiness no matter what the circumstances, situations or suffering—2 Peter 1:3, 4.

2)  The Scripture attests to its own authenticity and authority. This is inherent if it is what it claims to be.

3)  God guided the process. In His providence God oversaw the process so that He could bring about that which He intended to bring about, which is a clear and coherent revelation of Himself, and understandable revelation of Himself, to mankind. This is part of the doctrine of the providence of God, and we must remember that just as the church is the body of Christ and the Scripture is the mind of Christ, so Christ authenticates His own Word. Ultimately canonicity is determined by Jesus Christ who caused His church to recognise His Word through the witness of God the Holy Spirit.

4)  Inherently in the idea of canon and inspiration is the idea of limitation; that some things will be inspired and some things will not, some will come from God and some will not. The New Testament canon was completed in about 95 AD and it was recognised through a series of events. We usually look to a formal decision in 397 AD as the final recognition of what we now see as the 27 books of the New Testament. This idea of the limitation of the canon and the closing of the canon necessarily excludes any new revelation, any books by various cults such as the Book of Mormon, The Book of Science and Scripture, or any other modern revelation. It also excludes the continuation of prophecy which is by very nature a revelation from God.

How we got the Old Testament and the development of the Old Testament canon. Internal evidence for the Old Testament: the following verses claim inspiration for the Torah. The Old Testament is divided in the Hebrew Bible into three sections: the Torah, referring to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch; the nebiim, the prophets; the kethubim, the writings. The following verses claim that the Torah was inspired and authored by God: Deuteronomy 31:24-26. It is called a covenant of the Lord; Joshua 1:7,8; 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3; Daniel 9:11, and many others. Other verses claim inspiration for the prophets and the writings: Joshua 6:26 cf. 1 Kings 16:34; Joshua 24:29-33 cf. Judges 2:8, 9; Daniel 9:2 cf. Jeremiah 25:11, 12.

The major question that we must ask when we come to the Old Testament is: How is canonicity determined and what is the exact extent of the canon? Whose canon are we going to appeal to? Protestants have one canon, Roman Catholics have another canon (they include the Apocrypha), the Greek Orthodox have a slightly different canon yet, and so does the Syriac church.

First we look at the discoveries of Qumran where over 500 hundred scrolls were found. What they tell us is that the transmission of the Old Testament has been incredibly accurate. Up until that time the oldest copy of the Old Testament that we had was from about 895 AD. So what this does is push out oldest MSS of the Old Testament from roughly 900 AD back to 200 BC—1100 years. In the Isaiah manuscript, for example, there were very few differences. When the St. Mark's Isaiah scroll was compared with the Massoretic text, the official text that underlies our Old Testament, over 200 differences were discovered. But when editors of the RSV examined and weighed all of these textual variances they were surprised. This is important because the editors of the RSV were very liberal in their theological orientation, so they didn't trust the Massoretic text very well to begin with. When these liberal editors of the Old Testament RSV made this comparison between the Massoretic text and the Qumran scroll of Isaiah and these 200 differences they rejected 187 of them; they accepted 13 changes. One of the liberal editors later said that he wished that they had no accepted most of the 13. Furthermore, they decided after examining the Qumran scroll of Isaiah that the Massoretic text was a superior text to that of Qumran.

The value of Qumran is that of the 500 scrolls found 175 are related to biblical texts, i.e. Old Testament texts. All of the Old Testament books that we have are represented at Qumran, except for Esther. They wrote commentaries of the Old Testament books, but their commentaries were only written on books in our Old Testament canon, they didn't write any commentaries on the apocryphal books (which were present), on any disputed or non-canonical books. So the evidence from Qumran is that though they were aware of the apocryphal literature—the apocryphal literature involved events that only occurred between the Old and New Testaments—they did not treat it as canonical. Twenty of the thirty-nine Old Testament books were quoted by the Essenes as Scripture, so this validates the fact that by 200 BC they had a concept of an Old Testament canon and of what was from God and what was not from God.

During the diaspora, the age when the Jews were scattered throughout the world after they went out under the 5th cycle of discipline in 586 BC, there were three basic communities. There was one large Jewish community in Babylon, another in Palestine, and another in Egypt. These were independent communities, they did not have a lot of cross-communication and they didn't know what each other was doing. In reach of these communities they had the same identical canon and came to the same conclusions that incorporated what we would say are 39 books. The Hebrew canon only has 22 books because they treat the Minor Prophets as one book. Lamentations is part of Jeremiah, Ruth is part of Judges, and they don't divide up books such as 1 & 2 Kings. Their 22 books are identical to our 39 books.

There is an apocryphal book called Ecclesiasticus. This was written about 125 BC. The author is Joshua the son of Sirach, and he states that at the time that his grandfather lived, which would be about 180 BC, there was a threefold division of the canon—the Law, the prophets and the writings—and that the canon was closed. So by 180 BC he gives evidence that the canon is closed and there is no more revelation. In 164 BC Judas Maccabaeus compiled a list of canonical books and recognised that the gift of prophecy had ceased. The Babyloniam Talmud (difficult to date, it was written about 200 AD) has reports, oral tradition that goes back for many centuries. But in Bababatra 14b there is a reference again to a threefold division of the Old Testament. So that at least by the time of Christ this gives evidence that there is a threefold division. Ecclesiasticus was written by a Palestinian, Babatra was from the Babylonian Talmud, and then there is Philo, a Jew who lived about the time of Christ in Egypt. In his writings he mentions the same threefold division. Josephus, another Palestinian Jew. In his writings, Contra Apion, he argues that the Jews had a collection of authoritative literature that was kept in the temple which indicted a closed canon, and he refers to 22 books in their canon.

We are going to hear that the Jews made all these books authoritative at a council in 90 AD. Problem: In 70 AD Israel goes out under the 5th cycle of discipline when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and tore down the temple. So after 70 AD there can be no official Judaistic convocation, therefore that council did not have an official status within Judaism. Secondly, it was just a group of scholars who met as the usually do and just argued about some things, and there had always been questions about the inclusion of Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament canon. But every time they debated it they concluded that those three books were to remain in the Old Testament canon.

Furthermore, Jesus in the New Testament affirms the same 22 book canon and the threefold division. In Luke 24:44 Jesus said: NASB "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." In Matthew 23:25 NASB "so 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." So He traces their rejection of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah. What is Jesus doing here? In His orientation temporal or is it canonical? Abel was murdered by Cain; Zechariah is murdered about 825 BC, the passage this is referring to is in 2 Chronicles 24:20, 21. But he is not the last prophet killed in the Old Testament. That last prophet killed is Uriah who was killed in 600 BC, recorded in Jeremiah 26:23. But Jesus isn't thinking in terms of a timeline. He is thinking like a Jew and is thinking in terms of a Jewish canon, because the way the Jewish Old Testament is organised is different from ours. The first book in a Jewish Old Testament is Genesis; the last book is 2 Chronicles. The last thing that happens in 2 Chronicles is that Zechariah is murdered. Furthermore, New Testament writers never questioned the content of the Jewish canon. They used the terms "Scripture, Holy Scripture" again and again. By using the term "the Scripture says," that implies that there are certain books that are recognised as Scripture and certain others that aren't. In other word, they recognised the closed Old Testament canon. The New Testament includes 250 Old Testament quotes, none from the disputed books in the Apocrypha, and only Esther, the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes are not quoted. The church fathers only accepted the 39 books that we accept as authoritative. Augustine liked the Apocrypha, thought there was a lot of helpful information there, but did not consider it authoritative. Neither did Jerome who was the translator of the Latin Vulgate. But Jerome included them in the translation of the Vulgate because he thought it was helpful information but he did not think that they were canonical. That is how it got into the Roman Catholic Bible. Why was it included? Jerome, Augustine and others thought that it had value historically so they translated it and included it in the Latin Vulgate but it was never considered canonical until the Council of Trent after the Protestant Reformation because the Roman Catholic church reacted to Luther's claim that certain books and certain books alone were part of the Scripture. So in reaction to Luther they included the Apocrypha, but even the Cardinal who was Luther's primary opponent in the debate in the Roman Catholic church rejected the authority of the Apocrypha.

The conclusion is that by the early second century BC the Jews considered the canon to be closed and to have included only 22 Books (our 39 book) and that the gift of prophecy had temporarily ceased, and they never included or even disputed the inclusion of the Apocrypha in their canon. So the evidence is clear that the books that are disputed in the Roman Catholic church, Orthodox church and Syriac church should not be and should never have been included as part of the Word of God.

What is the criteria for including books as canonical? First, in the Old Testament they were authorised by a prophet. The book either was known to have been written by a prophet or was written under the authority of a prophet. There were schools of prophets. Samuel refers to them, Kings refers to them. Secondly, internal evidence. Was the message of the book internally consistent and did it measure up to the standards of Scripture? Remember, books were canonical not because Israel determined them to be but because they were recognised as such from their very writings and down through the ages. Third, there was an analysis of external evidence. Was the message of the book consistent with other books and were the prophecies fulfilled to the very letter?

The New Testament books were all written between AD 40 and about AD 95, but no attempt was made during the life of the apostles to collect them all together or to recognise an authoritative canon. This did not occur for another 100 years because they all expected Jesus to return at any moment and saw no need to try to collect a canon.

What are the factors that led to canonisation? First of all, the very first attempt to state that there was a New Testament canon was by a heretic by the name of Marcion. Marcion was an anti-Semite so he had a collection of New testament books that contained a heavily edited version of Luke and only ten of Paul's epistles. Any book that said anything positive about the Jews was immediately discarded. It was obvious that he was a heretic but he went around saying that there were eleven books that should be included in the canon, so that forced the church to respond. As so often happens in church history truth is clarified because someone comes up with false teaching. It forces thinkers to analyse the data and the doctrine and then develop it. So one factor was the attempts by heretics to arrange an authoritative collection. Another factor was that there was another group, the Montanists, who believed that the Holy Spirit was still giving revelation, much like modern Charismatics, and they were wanting to add more things to the New Testament. So on the one hand Marcion is taking our his razor blade like a modern liberal and cutting away certain passages of Scripture, and Montanus was continually adding. So the church had to stop and ask what really was the Bible.

This was further emphasised by AD 300 in the edict by the emperor Diocletian which ordered the burning of all sacred Christian writings. Furthermore, the content of the New Testament validated its own authority and as different churches collected different writings the need for a canon was realised. Finally, then use of apostolic writings in worship had to be decided. They went through a period of collection. First of all, the period of separate circulation from 70-170 AD. Some epistles we know of such as Colossians and Ephesians were written with the express purpose that they should be circulated among churches in the vicinity. Others would be shared by churches in close proximity such as Corinth, Thessalonica and Philippi, but other epistles were written to individuals, like Timothy, Titus, 2 John, 3John and so they didn't have as wide a circulation or were as well known. Other books like Hebrews had a unique problem. It didn't have a known author, so people weren't sure about it. So in this period New Testament books circulated but they were just gradually beginning to collect them together as a canon. Clement of Rome mentions at least eight New Testament books in his epistles, Ignatius cites about seven, Polycarp mentions about fifteen, and Iranaeus, about 185 AD, mentions twenty-one, and Hippolytus mentions twenty-two. So it can be seen there was a growing recognition of the extent of the canon. During this time the books that were questioned were Hebrews, because the author is unknown, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Revelation. Revelation was always question because there is a curse at the end, that if was added to or taken away from then one's eternal destiny reflects that.

The next period from 170-303 AD was a period of separation and they were separating out certain books as canonical and others as non-canonical. There is a collection called the Muratorian Canon from AD 170 which includes all of the New Testament except Hebrews, James and 1 & 2 Peter. The Syriac version dates from this time and it excludes only 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelation, and the old Latin version from 200 AD excludes 1 & 2 Peter, James and Hebrews. So we see it is the same basic books that are always questioned, and that has to do with their authorship and a couple of other factors—they hadn't circulated and weren't quite as well known. But by the Council of Laodicea in 363 the present collection of 27 books is mentioned. Athanasius is the great bishop of Alexandria mentions our 27 in his Easter letters of 367 and these are finally recognised by the local Council of Hippo in 393 and the third Synod of Carthage in 397. So the final canon is clearly recognized by 393.

What was the criteria for determining New Testament canonicity? Apostolic authorship or apostolic authority. Mark is not a apostle but he was the associate of Peter, so that what Mark wrote was clearly what Peter told him. James was not an apostle but he was the leader of the church in Jerusalem during those early years, Peter and John were still in Jerusalem, and when James wrote that he wrote it under the authority of Peter and John. Secondly, they were the books that were accepted by the churches. There was a unanimity of opinion. There are about five books usually accepted but with a little bit of a question mark, but at least 22 were never doubted. The others were questioned but there are no other books that were considered beyond our 27, so we can have maximum confidence that we have the Word of God in our 27 New Testament books. Third, there is an internal witness. The books are self-authenticating. If we compare them to any of the other books that were written at that time—like the Shepherd of Hermas, 1st Clement or the Epistle to Barnabas, the Didache, or any of the others—there is a remarkable difference in their content and tone.

In the final analysis it is the providence of Christ and His oversight for His church that through the Spirit of God He directs the church in the selection of the canon. We know that the New Testament books are reliable. We have more ancient copies of the New Testament than in any other ancient literature. For example, there are over 5,300 known Greek MSS of the New Testament. Add to that over 10,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions of the Greek New Testament. Beyond that there are literally thousands of quotations in church fathers and lectionaries, Scripture readings which were read in the meetings of the church. In comparison, the Iliad by Homer has only 643 MSS that still survive and the oldest complete preserved text dates from the 1200s. We have scraps of the New Testament that go back to about 117 AD. Of the fourteen books of Tacitus only four and a half survive.

How did we get our English Bible? Before Tyndale the morning star of the Reformation was Wycliffe. He was the first to translate the entire Bible into the English language, and then William Tyndale came along about the time of the Reformation and he was shut down in England from translating the Bible into English and had to flee to Germany in order to complete his translation. There, right after he completed it, he was arrested and in 1536 was strangled to death and burned at the stake. The last thing he said was: "May God open the eyes of the king of England." That prayer was answered in virtue by his own translation because as it was shipped to England. Although the Bishop of London bought up every copy he could and burned it many other copies made it into England and is created a thirst and hunger to have the Bible in their own language. One of his assistants, Miles Coverdale, took his translation and part of his Old Testament translation and then translated part of the Latin Vulgate Old Testament to give a complete Bible. The Coverdale Bible was written in 1535 but most of it was Tyndale's. Another associate by the name of John Matthews (a pseudonym for John Rogers) published another edition of Tyndale's New Testament in 1537. Then Coverdale who worked well with the authorities got the permission of the king of England, Henry VIII, to translate a Bible. It was called the Great Bible because it was very large. It came out in 1539. It was basically Coverdale's Bible with a few changes. Then when Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) came to the throne—after Henry VIII died his son Edward, a Protestant, became king and for about six years Protestant theology flourished in England until he died—and she was Roman Catholic. She was called Bloody Mary because she had so many Protestants burned at the stake. Many fled to Geneva to a seminary there under Calvin and they translated the Geneva Bible which was the main Bible of Shakespear, Queen Elizabeth, and was the Bible that King James grew up on, but he didn't like it because of some of the marginal notes. James finally authorised another translation which we know as the King James version. It was never officially authorised. It is called an authorised version but it is neither authorised nor a version. W call it the authorised version of 1611. It is based on the Textus Receptus which is eight ancient Greek MSS. It was edited by Erasmus who was one of Luther's foes. He put together a Greek New Testament and that was the basis of the King James version. The King James version was revised in 1629, 1638, 1653, 1701, 1762, 1769 and 1841, and many other editorial changes have been made. In fact, over 100,000 changes have been made. So people who want the KJV only we need to ask: Which KJV? On the basis of the Textus Receptus a new KJV translation was accomplished in 1979 which is quite good.