How We Got Our Bible
John Funk, an active Business Consultant in St. Catharines, Ontario, conducts a Youg Believers* Bible Class in his home assembly. He has graciously offered to share some of the studies of his class with the readers if Food for the Flock. These studies evidence considerable Biblical and historical research; moreover, they are informative as well as interesting.—Ed.
Our whole Christian faith is founded upon the Bible, the Word of God, and upon what it reveals to us in regard to God and man, Heaven and Earth, and Time and Eternity; consequently, we should be deeply interested in just how we got our English Bible.
This subject may be divided into at least three topics as follows: The Origin of the Bible, The Canon of Scripture, Some Translations of the Holy Scriptures.
The Origin Of The Bible
The Bible is a revelation of God to man. There are certain things that we can understand and know from nature. For example, we can know that there is a God, and we can understand somewhat of His character, but there are some things we could not know other than by a revelation from God.
God has graciously given us such a revelation; moreover, He has produced it in written form for us. The writers of the different books of the Bible were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit in order that they be able to write that revelation of the will of God.
Mankind has possessed this divine revelation in written form for only about 3,500 years; previous to that time there was no Bible, no Sacred Writings. In earlier times, God made His will known verbally to individuals, that is, He spoke directly to them; for example, He talked with Adam, with Job, and with many others. We know, therefore, that from the earliest times, even without the Scriptures, man possessed the knowledge of God and of His laws. This primitive knowledge has never died out, so that even in the remotest parts of the earth, men worship a Supreme Being and offer sacrifices to Him.
Before the Bible came into existence, God had two witnesses; namely, nature and man’s conscience. When the time came for God to give a written revelation, the Jews were chosen by Him to be the depositaries or custodians of His written Word.
About 1500 B.C., a written revelation consisting of the first five books of our present Bible was given to Moses. In these books, he covered the previous 2,500 years. The remainder of the Holy Scriptures was given to many different persons over a period of about 1,600 years, that is, from about 1500 B.C. to about 97 A.D. when the Apostle John wrote his Gospel in Asia Minor. Altogether about forty persons, from all stations of life, and almost all of them Jews, were engaged in the writing of the Bible.
We frequently refer to our Bible in three different ways. We call it “The Bible” from the Greek word, “biblia” which means “The Books.” We also call it “The Scriptures” from the Latin word that means “The Writings.” We, likewise, speak of it as “The Word of God” to mark this Book out as being entirely separate from the books of men.
The Canon Of Scriptures
When we speak of the Canon of Scripture, we are making reference to that list of recognized books which are accepted as those books which have both the external and internal evidence of being divinely inspired, those books which are now bound together in the Old and New Testaments to form The Bible.
We ought to say, that so far as is known, there are no original manuscripts now in existence. This statement is true of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, reliable copies have been made, and are, therefore, used in their stead. Even in this we see the wisdom of God, for man is so foolish, he no doubt would worship the original manuscripts rather than the God Who gave them, even as he does many relics such as the supposed bones of St. Peter.
However, there is no need for alarm just because we do not possess the original manuscripts of the books of our Bible. There are in existence today, many thousands of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts copied by Jewish scribes from earlier manuscripts. These are sometimes spoken of as being original manuscripts; a large number of these may be found now in the great libraries of Europe, and a few of them are in the possession of individuals. Dr. Gaster alone had about 800 manuscripts, and it is estimated that there are about 4,000 copies of the New Testament manuscripts in existence.
Much of the material included in this article has been gleaned and summarized from the book “The Scriptures of Truth” by Mr. Sidney Collett, published by S. W. Partridge and Co. Ltd., London, England. Those interested in studying the subject further are urged to obtain a copy of this book1. Let me now quote from pages 14 and 18:
“In making copies of Hebrew manuscripts which are the precious heritage of the Church today, the Jewish scribes exercised the greatest possible care, even to the point of superstition — counting, not only the words but every letter, noting how many times each particular letter occurred, and destroying at once the sheet on which a mistake was detected, in their anxiety to avoid the introduction of the least error into the Sacred Writings, which they prized so highly and held in such reverent awe. Moreover, each new copy had to be made from an approved manuscript written with a special kind of ink, upon sheets made from the skins of a “clean” animal. The writers also had to pronounce aloud each word before writing it, and on no account was a single word to be written from memory. They were reverently to wipe their pen before writing “Jehovah,” lest that holy name should be tainted even in the writing. The new copy was then carefully examined with the original almost immediately; and it is said that if only one incorrect letter were discovered the whole copy was rejected.”
“Having, however, in the good providence of God, so many ancient manuscripts to consult, the reader will understand that a copyist’s mistake in one is, as a rule, easily detected by the correct reading of the same passage in many of the other documents. So that it may be safely said, with the possession of these thousands of manuscripts, although they are only copies, we are practically able to arrive at the exact words of the Scriptures, as they originally came from God through His prophets and apostles. And, in addition to all this, there are so many accurate and voluminous quotations from the Scriptures in the writings of the early fathers, dating from the second to the fifth centuries, that it has been actually proved that, from these writings alone, without any other assistance, the whole of the New Testament could be reproduced! So carefully has our Heavenly Father guarded the Book He has given to the children of men.”
In our Bible there are sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. Some versions also include in the binding the “Apocrypha,” the fourteen “hidden” or “secret’’ books. Although these books are still included in some Bibles, they were never acknowledged to be inspired or to form part of the Canon of Scripture. These books are, however, always found in Roman Catholic Bibles. Some of these books contain good history e.g. the Maccabees, but for the most part by the very reading of them, it is obvious that they are merely the books of men.
* * *
He placed me in a little cage,
Away from gardens fair;
But I must sing the sweetest songs
Because He placed me there;
Not beat my wings against the cage
If it’s my Maker’s will,
But raise my voice to Heaven’s gate
And sing the louder still.
1 This may be done through The Christian Book Room, 853 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Canada.