The Origin and Transmission of the Bible
By Gregory Kubik
The word “Bible”
comes from the Greek word “Biblios,” which means “Book.” The Bible is the
book that we refer to as the Holy Scriptures. Scripture is a word that
means “that which is written.”
Bible is divided into categories in both the English and Hebrew
traditions. In English, these divisions are:
The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
The historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1
and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
The books of poetry/wisdom: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs,
The major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel
The minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
The Gospels and Acts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts
The Pauline Epistles: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians,
Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and
The General Epistles: Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter (Petrine Epistles), 1, 2,
and 3 John (Johannine Epistles), and Jude
the Hebrew Bible (TaNaKh), the divisions are:
Torah (Instruction/Law): B'reshiyth (In the beginning), Sh'moth (Names),
Wa'yiqra (And (YHWH) called), B'midbar (In the wilderness), and Devariym
Nevi'im (Prophets): Y'hoshua (Yahu is salvation), Shoftiym
(Judges), Sh'mu'el (lit. His name is El, but probably for Sh'mu`a'el,
Heard of El) Alef, Beth (1 and 2), Melakhiym (Kings) Alef, Beth,
Yesha`yahu (Yahu is salvation), Yirmeyahu (Yahu exalts? or
Yahu loosens the womb?), Y'hezq'el (El will strengthen),
Hoshea (Salvation), Yo'el (Yahu is God), Amos (Burden), `Ovadyahu
(Servant/slave of Yahu), Yonah (Dove), Miykhah/Miykhayahu (Who is like Yahu?),
Nahum (Comfort), Havaquq (embrace), Tzefanyah (Yahu has
treasured), Haggay (Festive), Z'kharyah (Yahu has remembered), and
Malakhiy (My messenger)
Kethuvim (Other Writings): T'hilliym (Songs of praise, sing. T'hillah), Mishley
(Proverbs, comparisons), Iyyov (afflicted, subject of hostility?), Shiyr
haShiyriym (Song of songs), Ruth (Companion), Eykhah (How?), Qoheleth (Preacher
or collector), Esther (Star), Daniy'el (God (El) is my judge), `Ezra
(Help), Nehemyah (Yahu comforts), and Divrey haYamiym (Words of the
days) Alef, Beth
The Bible was
originally transmitted orally (by mouth, Deuteronomy 4:9) until it was written
down under divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21).
The Bible was written
over a span of 1600 years by over 40 different people. Yet the Bible
contains the same message throughout because God was behind the writing.
The Bible was written
in two basic languages: Hebrew and Greek. The Old Testament was written
in Hebrew, and all of the copies we have of the New Testament are in Greek,
although some parts of it were originally written in Hebrew.
All of the people who
wrote the Bible were Hebrew, except for Luke.
Jesus was born and
raised in Israel. He grew up in the Jewish culture and way of life.
The Old Testament was written from roughly 1500-500 BC
(the last books were written after 500 because a couple of the prophets lived
between 500 and 400). It was written on various writing materials.
One of the most widely used was animal skins (cow, sheep, and goat) because of
its durability, pressed into a type of parchment. They were then written
on in black ink and rolled up into scrolls. Pictured below is a modern
Below is a column of a more ancient scroll.
The people who copied
the scrolls were called "scribes." The word scribe comes from the Hebrew
word "sofer" which means "to count." I’ll explain why they were called
that later. The scribes also had to be specialists in the law. It
was up to them to bring God’s word to the people, because many couldn’t read or
write. This was a big responsibility.
One important thing
to note is that we don’t have any of the original scrolls that Moses, the
prophets, or the apostles wrote. All we have is copies of the originals.
There are a few reasons why we don’t have the originals:
When scrolls got old, they were ceremoniously buried in a special
building. The scrolls could get lost or decay this way.
There were also many calamities that came upon the Jewish nation. For
example, Jerusalem was destroyed a few times. The scrolls could have been
destroyed during times like these.
The scrolls could have also been hidden from invading armies. This
happened to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which remained undiscovered for 2,000
The Hebrew letters
themselves derive from ancient picture drawings. It is believed that
Hebrew words received their meaning from the letters they were written
with. For example, the Hebrew word for God is "el" and in
pictographs it is written with an ox head and a shepherd's staff, and combined
it means "the strong shepherd." The Hebrew word for father is
"av" and in picto-graphs it is written with an ox head and a house,
and combined it means "strength of the house." Below is
"el" in Proto-Sinaitic, the ancestor of paleo-Hebrew.
(original scrolls)- They were written in a very ancient form of Hebrew. It
is the ancient ancestor of the English alphabet. The pictograph ancestor
of it is pictured below, in use ca. 15th century BC. The Hebrew scrolls were not written with these pictographs; but the alphabet with which they were written descends from the one pictured below.
The paleo-Hebrew alphabet
(descended from the pictographs and with which the earliest scrolls were written) is pictured below (ca. 10th century BC).
Below is an example of
this old writing, an ostracon from ca. eighth century BC that
mentions the house of YHWH. It is the house of YHWH ostracon, which says
"Just as you commanded, Ashyahu the king, to give by the hand of
Zekharyahu silver of Tarshish to the house of YHWH, three shekels."
After the Babylonian exile (587
BC), this ancient script evolved into the more modern Hebrew that appears in
modern Hebrew Bibles. This alphabet appears below.
Originally, the Hebrew words were separated by
dots or spaces. There were no punctuation marks and no vowels. The
reader supplied the correct sounds based on the context. It's like saying
"TH HBRW LNGG WS WRTTN WTHT VWLS." Vowel markings were added
later by scribes to preserve the original sounds. In the Dead Sea
Scrolls, words were separated by spaces in the scrolls written in the classical
script, and by dots in the scrolls written in the ancient script.
Sometimes words separated by spaces were grouped together. This at times
could cause different readings of the text. The correct reading is based
upon context. For example, the phrase Godisnowhere could be read as
"God is nowhere" or "God is now here" (example courtesy of
Paul Wegner, see footnotes). Obviously, "God is now here" is
the correct reading. The Hebrew is translated in a similar fashion.
To the left is the Dead Sea Scroll
paleo-Leviticus, with dots between words. To the right is a portion of
the Great Isaiah Scroll from the same collection, with spaces between words.
As stated earlier, ancient Hebrew scribes used
scrolls for their writing (Jeremiah 36:2, 23). There were very strict
rules that they followed in order to preserve the accuracy of the
scrolls. If they made a mistake, that scroll could not be used.
After they were done, all of the letters and words had to total a certain
number. That is why the scribes were called “scribes”; they counted
everything to make sure it was all there.
The scribes also had
great reverence for God’s name, Jehovah (YHWH).
Every time the scribe
wrote this name, he would stop, wash his hands, pray, write the name, wash his
hands, and then continue. God’s name could not be corrected or erased once it was
written. This name was regarded as so holy that it continued to be written in the paleo-Hebrew script (pictured), but was eventually written the same as the rest of the text.
There were no
chapters or verses in the original scrolls.
The most ancient
manuscripts of the Old Testament that were known about before 1947 were the
Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, each being 1,000 years old.
Pictured below are theses two codices.
Then, in 1947 the famous Dead Sea
Scrolls were discovered in 11 caves by the Dead Sea in Israel. These
scrolls are the oldest Biblical manuscripts known today. Most of them are
over 2,000 years old. Some of them date back to 150 years before
Christ. All of the books of the Hebrew Bible, except Esther, were found
among the scrolls. The only book that was found in its entirety is the
Great Isaiah Scroll, which dates to 150 BC. This is very significant,
because the book of Isaiah not only contains many important prophecies
concerning Israel, but also major prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.
Important prophecies concerning Jesus, such as Isaiah 11:1-2, 42:1-9, 53, and
61:1-4 are all contained within this ancient scroll. Below is a portion
of the Isaiah scroll, taken from the website of the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls
Collection. You can
scroll through the entire scroll, plus several other non-biblical scrolls from
Another scroll that was written
right after the time of Jesus is the Psalms Scroll. It is written in the
more classical Hebrew script, but the name of God appears in the ancient
The oldest portion of Scripture is
found on silver amulets dating from 600 BC. The portion is from Numbers
6:22-25. Another amulet contains just the name YHWH.
Non-Scriptural references to events
in the Bible such as Creation and the Flood are the oldest records we have of
these events. Before God confused man's languages at the tower of Babel
the stories of Creation and the flood were popularly known. Then when God
dispersed manking to the uttermost parts of the earth, they took with them
these stories and formulated their own legends around them. It is for
this reason that we find Creation and flood accounts similar to those of the
Bible in many cultures worldwide. However, the tower of Babel saw the
begninning of the worship of many gods. Thus the Creation and flood
accounts of other cultures are generally polytheistic, while the Biblical
accounts preserve the original monotheism of Adam's descendents. Pictured
below (on the left) is a tablet of the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian Creation
account, and to the right is the Epic of Gilgamesh, an old flood account from
Old Testament has a very rich background and setting. The primary
language it was written in, Hebrew, is part of the Semitic language
family. The oldest known Semitic language is Akkadian, which is very
closely related to Hebrew. Akkadian survived in the region until shortly
after the time of Christ, and existed as a major language until the time of the
prophets (c. 800 BC). The Akkadian language is important to study for
background of the Hebrew language. Sumerian is perhaps the oldest
language (at least written) from the Mesopotamian region. It is not a
Semitic language. However, there have been found traces of the Semitic
language family in the region that date since the dawn of civilization.
The languages of Asshur (Assyrian) and Babylon (Babylonian) are dialects of
also read in the Scriptures that men used to live hundreds of years, many
older than 900 years old (Genesis 5). Not only have scientists uncovered
giant human bones, but they also have uncovered the remains of giant
animals, which include not only dinosaurs but larger versions of
animals familiar to us now. Before the flood animals and man lived in a
different atmosphere, a type of atmosphere which allowed men and animals
to live long and grow large. This history is clearly shown in the
first major civilization was the Sumerians. A few minor civilizations
existed prior to Sumer, but the Sumerians wrote the first written
records. Their origin is in question. Some scholars believe that
they originated in the region of Turkey, near the Caspian Sea. Genesis
10:8-12 says "And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the
earth. He was a mighty hunter before Yahweh: wherefore it is said, Even
as Nimrod the mighty hunter before Yahweh. And the beginning of his
kingdom was Babel (Akk. bab-ilu or "gate of God"), and Erech, and
Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth
Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city of Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen
between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city."
is thought by scholars that Shinar is Sumer. The city of Erek (Uruk) was
the first great city-state in Sumer. The city or Ur (Ur = light, or city
of the moon god) was another Sumerian city-state, which was the home of
Abraham. Sumer is known as the birthplace of civilization, which remained
basically the same until the conquest of Alexander the Great in the 4th century
BC. Ancient Sumer was just north of the Persian Gulf, while the Semitic
civilization of Akkad was northwest between the area where the Tigris and
Euphrates are closest together. Akkad and Sumer later became one empire,
and then became divided between Assyria in the north and Babylonia in the
south. The Semitic race is thought to have been present in Mesopotamia
since the dawn of civilization.
city of Uruk was not only a center of trade, but a religious center as
well. The god Anu (one of the cheif gods of Sumer) and the fertility
goddess Inanna (Ishtar) were worshipped here. Ishtar is comparable to the
Caananite Asherah and Ashtarte, which are both commonly referred to in the
Bible as Ashtoreth (plural form). Ishtar was a central figure in many
Sumero-Akkadian myths, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which contains the oldest
flood account to date and resembles the account of Noah and the Ark.
Among the similarities is a boat being built to house all the living animals of
the earth for shelter from a coming flood, Utanapishtim (Noah) sending forth
doves and swallows to see if there is dry land, and the boat coming to
rest on a mountain called Mount Nisir.
Akkadian creation account entitled "Creation of Man by the Mother
Goddess" details an account of the creation of man from the mixture of
clay with the blood of a dead god, which is similar to Yahweh forming man from
the dust of the ground. An interesting thought on this is that the name
Adam refers to red, clayey soil. This type of soil is perhaps what
inspired the "blood" aspect of the Babylonian version.
The Enuma Elish contains the days of Creation almost in their exact
order. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, in Gilgamesh's quest for immortality he
is told by a maiden that his eyes will be enlightened, that he would be made
wise, and that he would become like a god. Again, this has parallels to
the serpent telling Eve that she would be made like a god if she partook of
the fruit of knowledge. Later on in the Epic, Gilgamesh attempts to take the plant of immortality back to Uruk, only to have it eaten by a serpent. Thus we see mankind's quest for immortality thwarted by a serpent. The serpent is widely attested in the
mythology of the ancient near East, and is either benificent or
destructive. A parallel to the serpent of Genesis might be the Mesopotamian
god Ningishzida. The tree was a fertility symbol in the ancient near
East. It can be thought that, the same way that the Hebrew Bible was
vastly mystically interpreted in the Kabbalistic writings, the original
happenings of the Genesis account gave rise to the traditions and
interpretations in the myths of the ancients.
another account from Sumer called "Enki and Ninhursag," numerous
parallels are found to the Genesis account of the garden of Eden, such as
goddesses giving birth without pain, and Enki (the water-god) is tempted
to eat of the eight sacred trees and in doing so is cursed by Ninhursag who
bore him. Later Enki suffers wounds in multiple parts of his body,
including his rib, and Ninhursag gives birth to eight goddesses to heal Enki,
which is paralleled by Eve being created from Adam's rib, as well as the meaning
of her name "life." The Paradise location, Dilmun (perhaps
located southeast of Babylon towards the Persian Gulf at the juncture of
the Tigris, Euphrates, and two other rivers), is thought to have been the
original garden of Eden. Sweet water from the earth watered the garden,
and it is a place that is pure, clean and bright, without sickness or
death. These accounts are all examples of how the
original happenings of the Creation and the Flood survived in the myths of
the cultures surrounding Israel. It is generally acknowledged that the
Mesopotamian Creation accounts predate the Biblical one, and there are many
similarities between them that cannot be overlooked. It is not safe to
accuse one of borrowing from the other; rather, each account uses similar
language and storyline that originate from a common near Eastern
tradition. The Biblical account is the monotheistic version of this
creation accounts strongly resemble the Biblical account of Creation in Genesis
1-2. The Sumerians believed that a canopy of water surrounded the
earth. Out of this primordial water canopy the universe was born.
The firmament, or atmosphere, separated the heavens from the earth below.
Sun, moon, and stars were born out of the cosmos, and creation of the animals
and man followed afterward. Creation for the gods was simple; all they
had to do was conceive of a plan, and then speak it into existence through
their spoken word. After the creation, they set up rules and guidelines
as to how creation would operate.
widely recognized parallel to the Law of Moses is the stela of Hammurabi (also
Hammurapi) of Babylon. The top of the stele depicts Hammurabi receiving
his code, or "law-book" (compare Mosaic "book of the
Law"), from the sun god Shamash, who was also known as the god
of justice (ANET, 163). Ancient Near Eastern law codes all have
some similarities, but there are also many differences. Each one imposes
severe penalties for such sins as physical injury, incest, etc. The
command "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Exodus 21:24) is
also found in Hammurabi's code, but not in that exact wording. This was a
purely civil command, and a just one, but not a justification for personal
revenge (which is what Jesus addressed), as this was never the intent of
this command either in the Bible or in any other culture. Hammurabi also
gives command that the man who does not alter his law will reign as long
as he, which parallels Moses commanding Israel to heed his words (not
taking away or adding to them), promising life for them as a result.
Though there are similarities between the civil and cultural aspects of the Law
of Moses and other law codes, the Law of Moses contains a strong moral
obligation to God (in this case Yahweh), which is not found in the other codes.
was composed mostly of city-states; cities that are independently governed
without national allegiance. The ziggurat was the religious center of
these city-states. It has been thought that the tower of Babel was a
ziggurat. In a Sumerian text called "Enmerkar and the lord of
Aratta" a ziggurat is being built to a god and it is requested that the
earth address him in one language, and it is stated that a different god will
change the speech in their mouths, so that the speech of mankind is truly
one. This appears to be a plea to be restored back to one language as it
had been before Babel (see Zephaniah 3:9). A Sumerian story called
"Man and His God" has strong parallels to the Job story, and may
be another version of the same account. Even though Job lived in Uz
(much of which can be identified with Edom), he was very wealthy and may
have obtained fame throughout the near East.
Sumerian city-states battled for supremacy; among them were Ur, Uruk, Lagash,
and Kish. Dominion shifted between the cities. Ur achieved dominion
a couple of times, and dynasties were established there. Due to the
warring nature of the city-states, it wasn't that hard for the neighboring
Semites to conquer them and establish an empire. At around the 23rd
century BC, Sargon of Akkad began to conquer the whole Mesopotamian region, and
began to reign over a unified Sumero-Akkadian empire. Sumer and Akkad had
many influences on each other, especially with regard to their languages.
The Sumerian language was affected by Akkadian, and vice versa. The
Sumerian moon god Nanna (who had a sanctuary in Ur, Abraham's hometown) was
identified with the Semitic moon god Sin (who had a sanctuary in Haran, which
is where Abraham's father Terah made pilgramage to and died).
Sumero-Akkadian empire under Sargon did not last long. Local rebellions
and revolts divided the empire. The Gitu, a barbaric people from the
north, gave the empire its final blow. It took a few centuries for the
region to recover somewhat. The city-states of Ur, Uruk, Lagash, and
others competed for supremacy. During this time, Ur-Nammu founded the
third dynasty at Ur, and by 2100 BC Ur was a prosperous city of trade.
Genesis 13:2 says that Abraham was "very rich in cattle, silver, and
gold." Terah, Abraham's father, was perhaps a prosperous merchant in
Ur, and was of Aramean descent (see Deuteronomy 26:5). We read in Genesis 11:31 that Terah
moved his family from Ur to go to the land of Canaan. They stopped in Haran in the region of northern Mesopotamia. Haran, similar to Ur, was also a city of the moon god, which they perhaps worshipped. Terah died in Haran. It was
here that Yahweh appeared to Abram and told him to resume the journey to the
land of Canaan, where He would make of him a great nation. However, they were still Arameans; much of Abram's family stayed in Haran. When Isaac was going to marry, Abraham sent for a wife from his own people in the region of Padan-Aram (which includes Haran). The Hebrews thus emerged as a people distinct from their Canaanite neighbors, and identified themselves by the name of Abraham's ancestor Eber; the reason perhaps being that the term Eber or Ivriy means "from the other side (of a river or region)," hence the Israelites, being not from Canaan but "from the other side," were Hebrews.
name Abraham appears in an extra-Biblical text as Abu-reheni (ANET,
329). According to William Albright, Dean of Biblical archaeologists, we
have a plentitude of archaeological evidence that relates to the sojournings of the patriarchs as they are portrayed in the Bible (Genesis 20:1; see the
opening pages of Albright's work From Abraham to Ezra). The Nuzi
tablets provide a wealth of infomation that sheds light on the customs of the
times of the patriarchs and puts them in their historical context and setting.
was found an ancient seal that dates to c.a. 3500 BC (pictured below
left). It depicts what very well could be Adam and Eve, perhaps made as a
reminder of the consequences of their fall. The seal depicts two dejected
looking people with a serpent behind them. The seal below
right depicts a Mesopotamian fertility motif (ca. 2200 BC), which
resembles (but doesn't portray) the Adam and Eve story. Notice the man
and woman (most likely a god and goddess), the tree between them, and the
serpents; all fertility motifs.
The so called "Tell Dan
Inscription" (pictured below) dates to the 10th-9th centuries BC and
contains a reference to the house of David (the Davidic dynasty). The
phrase appears in the 5th row from the bottom. Look for two triangles
with a Y-looking symbol in the middle. That's David's name. The
inscription concerns the deaths of king Ahazaiah of Judah and king Joram of
Israel at the hand of the prophet Jehu, for which the Aramean ruler who wrote
this (Hazael of Syria) takes credit, since Jehu was acting as his emissary
(Kitchen, 2003, 16-17).
Another important find is the Moabite stone,
which dates to ca. 846 BC. The stone details the battle account of Mesha,
the king of Moab, in a battle against Israel, and is a record of his
victory. The stone reflects a conflict between the Omride dynasty, of
which Ahab was a king, and Moab. As recorded in 2 Kings
3:5, Mesha rebelled against the king of Israel. The
"rebelling" probably references a Moabite victory, perhaps the very
same one detailed in this inscription. We then read that Ahab went
to Jehoshaphat of Judah for help, and they (together with the king of
Edom) ended up defeating Moab at the word of the prophet Elisha.
In Mesha's account, he mentions Yahweh, the God of Israel, in the context
of taking the vessels of Yahweh from the city Nebo and presenting them to
Chemosh, the god of Moab. The name appears at the beginning of the 18th
The Siloam inscription, dating to
the 8th century BC (left), and the Gezer calendar, dating to the 10th-9th
century BC (right), preserve ancient paleo-Hebrew records that are very
important in tracing the development of the Hebrew language and script.
They are also of historical importance, since the Siloam inscription marks the
completion of a tunnel built by Hezekiah connecting the Gihon spring to the
pool of Siloam to assure security against the increasing Assyrian threat.
The Gezer calendar lists the seasons of harvest and planting in Israel.
There were also found a bunch of pottery
fragments with Hebrew writing on them, called the Lachish ostraca. These
fragments are from 587 BC. They detail events in the book of Jeremiah
that have to do with the Babylonian captivity. These fragments are very
important in understanding what happened during the time of Jeremiah before
Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians. Below left is ostracon
#2. The name YHWH appears in the second and fifth rows. To the
right is an ostracon from Arad that mentions the "house of YHWH" in
the bottom row.
Pictured below is the seal of
Baruch the son of Neriah, Jeremiah's scribe (compare with Jeremiah
36:4). It says "Belonging to Berekhyahu (Baruch) the son of
Nariyyahu (Neriah) the scribe."
There is also a Babylonian clay tablet which
speaks of the king of Babylon giving rations to king Jehoiachin of Judah, which
is what is stated in Jeremiah 52:31-34 (ANET, 308).
In the third century BC, 72 Hebrew scholars
translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. This translation
became known as the Septuagint (Greek for 70). This translation is very
important. It is the oldest translation we have of the Hebrew, and it
allows for comparision between Hebrew and another language. It gives more
insight as to how the text originally read. The Septuagint (a fragment of
which is pictured below, from the book of Job) was the translation
that the early Christians use as their Old Testament. The Septuagint also
shows that the name YHWH was originally left in the text in the paleo-Hebrew
script, before it got replaced with Kurios (Lord) by Christians. The name
appears inside the rectangular box.
All of the books of the
Old Testament were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God
himself gave the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-20), and God himself gave
the prophet Moses all of his revelation. Very often in scripture you will
read the phrase “And the LORD (Jehovah) said unto Moses”. God commanded
the public reading of the law (Deuteronomy 31:9-11). God also spoke
directly to the other prophets and commanded them to write down the visions
that he gave them (Isaiah 1:24, Isaiah 3:15, Jeremiah 1:2, 4, 12, Ezekiel 3:11,
Hosea 2:21). God told us not to add to or delete from his words
(Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32). Jesus quoted from the Old Testament in many
instances. We can be positive that what the prophets wrote is the very
word of God, since their prophecies have been fulfilled and are being
fulfilled. Everything the prophets wrote concerning the death, burial,
and resurrection of Jesus came true. Because the prophets delivered the
word of God, they were persecuted and even killed, but God preserved their
writings for us to read, and therefore be saved. We can believe in the
Old Testament as a direct revelation of God.
The New Testament was
written about 30 years after Jesus ascended. It was written mostly on
papyrus. It was written to be circulated throughout the land. The
gospels were written for both believers and nonbelievers. All of the
books of the New Testament were written by Jews, except for Luke. Jesus
and His disciples were all Jewish, as was the Church at its birth. On the
day of Pentecost, the 3,000 converts in Acts 2:41 were Jews who lived in other
countries and came to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the feast of
The first non-Jewish
convert to Christianity was Cornelius (Acts 10). God told Peter in a
vision to go to Cornelius’ house, and God told Cornelius in a vision that Peter
was coming. Cornelius accepted the gospel, and the Holy Ghost fell on
many Gentiles afterward (Acts 10:44). More and more Gentiles became
Christians afterward, and local congregations of believers sprang up across the
Roman Empire. They weren’t churches as we know them today. They met
in homes, and later even underground to escape persecution.
The letters of the
apostle Paul were written in Greek. They were written to the various
churches that were scattered over the Roman Empire, and were intended to be
read aloud to the congregation. These letters are of the utmost
importance to the Christian church. Not only do they contain doctrinal
information vital to the believer, but they also contain practical teaching
necessary for a godly Christian life. After the Jews officially rejected
the gospel, more and more non-Jewish converts were added to the church.
Paul was primarily the apostle sent to the non-Jews, and Peter was sent to the
Jews (Galatians 2:7-8).
John and Peter, two of
Jesus’ original disciples, and James (overseer of the Jerusalem
church) and Jude, half-brothers of Jesus, wrote the other letters.
The author of Hebrews is unknown. John wrote the book of Revelation,
which is a book of prophecy.
The New Testament became
in high demand with the spread of Christianity, and thus many manuscripts were
copied, which gives us a lot of manuscripts to compare and see how the
originals might have read. The words were written very close together,
sometimes without any spaces between them.
The New Testament was
written in the context of the Jewish culture and way of life. Jesus’
disciples worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 24:53). Jesus taught
daily in the temple (Mark 14:49). Christianity was originally a sect of
Judaism until the Jews officially rejected Christianity. Jesus was
originally sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6,
15:24). The Jewish faith was originally founded on the Old Testament
Scriptures, but the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, did
not observe the Law as God intended. They imposed their own rituals and
traditions, which made living for God burdensome for those under their
authority (Mark 7:9). They would rob widows and then make a vain show of
repentance (Matthew 23:14). They were hypocrites, full of dead men’s
bones (Matthew 23:27).
The Jewish culture of
Jesus’ time was plagued by the Roman empire, who had control of Israel, and had
no respect for the Jewish faith or the one true God, Jehovah (Yahweh). To
the Romans, Caesar was a god, and should be worshiped as such. They
imposed tax collectors that would collect taxes for Caesar, and they crucified
rebels. The Romans were very much hated by the Jews. Part of the
reason that the Jews rejected Jesus is because they were looking for a Messiah
that would destroy the enemies of Israel, including Rome. When Jesus came
and didn’t do that, they failed to believe he was the Messiah. What they
didn’t realize is the fact that, according to the Scriptures, the Messiah would
come a first time to redeem Israel spiritually by saving them from their sins
(Isaiah 53), and that he would come a second time in the future to deliver them
from their enemies (Isaiah 63). There is much indication in
Scripture that many early Christians, including the apostles, believed that
Christ would return immediately. But it was not God's time yet (Acts
After Jesus rebuked the
Pharisees for their hypocrisy in Matthew 23, in Matthew 24:2 he makes the
astonishing declaration that the magnificent temple in Jerusalem would be
destroyed, and that not one stone would be left on top of another. Jesus
was greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6), but the Jews did not recognize him
as such. Jesus was doing something new: the believer would now become the
temple of God, and the residence of God would be in the hearts of believers,
instead of a building made with hands (1 Corinthians 6:19, Isaiah 66:1).
The sinfulness of Jerusalem was great, and had to be judged. Jerusalem
was going to be destroyed, and the Jews scattered from their homeland.
In 70 AD, the Roman
emperor Titus led the Roman army in an attack on Jerusalem. The beautiful
temple, made of white marble, wood and gold, was razed to the ground, without
one stone being left on another (Josephus, War 7.1.1). The gold of the
temple, along with the holy vessels (the seven-branched menorah, the table of
shewbread, and others) were taken as booty and many Jews were taken as
slaves. The Ark of the Covenant was spared since it had been
hidden. The “arch of Titus” pompously portrays the Roman
victory. Below is a stone relief from the arch.
For the Jewish
Christians, the loss of the temple didn’t have as much of an impact as it did
for Israel, because they believed that the true temple was the believer whom
God indwells, and collectively the church body. Originally, the impending
loss of the temple astounded the disciples. It had been their way of life
for 1,000 years. They could no longer go to the temple to worship, but
they had been meeting in homes and continued to do so. The synagogue,
which had existed previously, was now the official place of worship for
non-believing Jews. Thus the Jewish culture changed dramatically and
evolved into Rabbinical Judaism, and then modern day Judaism.
Christianity continued to be spread to the uttermost parts of the earth, and
more and more Gentiles, as well as Jews, were added to the faith.
There was no printing
press in the days of the early church. Every single copy of the
Scriptures had to be made by hand. It wasn’t until the 1400’s AD that the
printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg. After that, Bibles
became a lot less expensive to print and could be printed in a lot less
time. This allowed the word of God to become spread a lot faster than
previously. This rapid spread of Scripture greatly reduced the power of
the Catholic Church, which claimed to be the only true interpreter of
Scripture. This led to the Protestant Reformation. People started
reading the truth of God’s word and coming out of the Catholic doctrinal
system. The Bible became available to those who couldn’t afford the Word
of God before the printing press. For over 1,000 years, there had been a
great period of spiritual darkness known as the “Dark Ages” where the Catholic
Church suppressed the spread of God’s word and punished, even killed people for
reading the Bible themselves. But now anyone could read the Bible in his
own language and determine God’s truth for himself. This was very
important for the spread of God’s Word.
The oldest fragment of
the New Testament dates to about 100-150 AD. It is from the Gospel of
John chapter 18:31-33, 37-38. Pictured below are the front and back of
Another ancient text consists of 30
portions of leaves of papyrus codices. It dates to 200-250 AD and
includes the four gospels, Acts, Paul’s epistles, and Revelation.
One very ancient fragment that
contains part of Matthew 26 is dated anywhere from 30-150 AD. Another
manuscript, dating from 175-225 AD, contains most of the gospels of Luke and
Jesus told the disciples
that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance everything he had told
them. The disciples and apostles wrote down the words of Jesus under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The apostles believed in the
testimony of Jesus so much that they gave their lives for their faith.
They were eyewitnesses who faithfully recorded everything they had seen.
After Jesus resurrected, he was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses before he
ascended (1 Corinthians 15:6). The gospels were written to provide an
accurate account of Jesus’ life, that we might believe through reading.
John 20:30-31 says “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his
disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye
might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye
might have life through his name”. John 21:24 says “This is the disciple
which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his
testimony is true”. Also, in Revelation 1:10, John said “I was in the
spirit”. The apostle Paul said that his writings were given to him by the
revelation of Jesus, and that if anyone taught things contrary to his gospel,
he was to be accursed. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:37 “If any man think
himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that
I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”. Over and over Paul
said “I lie not”. The apostles and Jesus referred to their sayings as commands.
Peter equated Paul’s writings with Old Testament Scripture. We can put
our faith in the New Testament, and the entire Bible, as God’s Word.
Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts
Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to
Buttrick, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the
Vos and Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Historical
Geography of Bible Lands
Wegner, The Journey from Texts to
Unger, The Dead Sea
Scrolls, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957, pp 70-72