Many facts about the assembly and preservation of the Bible show God’s guiding hand in the entire process. Here is the amazing story of how God preserved His Word!
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Where did the Bible come from? Who authored it? How did we get it? Is it complete?
Many sincerely wonder: Do we have the entire Bible? Some feel that we cannot know. Is there any way to prove this?
The answer to both questions is “yes!”
Consider for a moment. Are you able to preserve important financial papers that you need to keep? Can families preserve treasured photographs, protected in an album? Are companies able to preserve records vital to their existence? Can the National Archives protect important documents and artifacts from America’s history? Is the Internet capable of preserving virtually EVERYTHING?
The answer to all these questions is “Of course!”
If God can create the universe—and all life within it—surely He can preserve His Word. Yet, most seem to think that God is less capable of preserving what is vital to Him than human beings are!
The design and development of the Bible is a fascinating story. This series will explore in essential detail the canonization—the binding and confirming—of those books that God intended to preserve for all time as His Word—Scripture.
Three separate areas need to be understood and appreciated to answer these questions. We will follow this general format in presenting the overwhelming evidence:
(1) The design and layout of the Old Testament (including canonization).
(2) The design and layout of the New Testament (including canonization).
(3) The study of the Apocrypha and other documents not canonized.
The Jews preserved the Hebrew Scriptures. Romans 3:1-2 tells us: “What advantage then has the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.”
The oracles of God consist of the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Calendar. To find the source of the true Scriptures, we must look to the Jews, whose leaders were commissioned to preserve and protect them.
How certain can we be that God is able to preserve His Word for us today—nearly 2,000 years after the final canonization of the New Testament? Christ answers this in Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
Notice another statement by Christ that expands on this principle: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18).
The term, “the law or the prophets,” is a short term for the Hebrew Sacred Scriptures, as we will see shortly. Christ did not come to destroy the Scriptures, or nullify the Law of God, but to fulfill them—the prophecies of His human existence and sacrifice.
Notice the following verse, which indicates that Christ realized that the Jews possessed the proper Scriptures, prophesying a specific fulfillment: “But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?…But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook Him, and fled” (Matt. 26:54, 56).
Acts 17:10-11 shows where the brethren looked in order to find the true Scriptures: “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming there went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman, was always familiar with the true Scriptures: “And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:15-16).
Many other verses could be cited to reinforce this point, but the trend is clear. Every synagogue possessed exact replicas or copies of the texts found in the Temple. Even the term “holy scriptures” literally meant “Sacred Scriptures.” Sacred refers to the Holy Place of the Temple. The term “holy scriptures” is actually translated “Temple Scriptures” in the Englishman’s Bible. Again, all the sets of Scriptures in the synagogues were replicas of the texts found in the Temple.
The King James Version and virtually all other more modern translations list 39 individual books in the Old Testament. These books do represent the entirety of the Old Testament. But the one problem with these books is the order in which they are found.
Since these books comprise the official Hebrew canonized Scriptures, this is where we should look to establish the correct order. First, notice that Christ told His disciples, after His Resurrection, that Bible verses foretold of His life and mission: “And He said unto them, These are the words which I spoke 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, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).
As Luke wrote of this account, he was specifying which Scriptures—the Hebrew canonized Scriptures—Christ pointed out as His inspired Word. They foretold of His life and fulfillment of many prophecies concerning Him.
Luke was specifying this information to the gentile readers of his Greek manuscripts.
The Hebrew canonized Scriptures are emphasized here in contrast to such counterfeit documents as the Septuagint, written in the Greek language. (More will be covered about the Septuagint later.) Accurate and valid copies of the Hebrew Scriptures translated into the Greek language did exist in the first century.
Notice that Christ himself identified the Hebrew Scriptures by the following terms: (1) The Law of Moses, (2) the Prophets, and (3) the Psalms.
These are the three major divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures—the Old Testament. They were arranged according to the recorded words of Jesus Christ in Luke 24:44-45.
Note what Flavius Josephus states in regard to the number of books in the Hebrew Scriptures: “For we [the Jews] have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing and contradicting one another, but only 22 books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine” (Against Apion, Book I, Section VIII).
The following scholars associated with the Catholic movement also publicly acknowledged that there were 22 books to the Hebrew Scriptures: Origen (A.D. 210), Athanasius (365), Cyril of Jerusalem (386), and Jerome (410).
We first list the books of the Law, also known as the Torah or Pentateuch:
• The Law of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Note that in this first section of the Law, the order is not changed. The radical changes appear in the second (the Prophets) and third sections (the Psalms or Writings).
Now, we list the original order of the Prophets. Note how the books are divided and sub-divided:
• The Former Prophets: Joshua-Judges (combined into one) and Samuel-Kings (combined into one).
• The Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and “The Twelve” prophets (one book)—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Finally, the third division, known as the Psalms, is also known as the Writings, and is divided into three parts:
• The Former Poetic Books: Psalms, Proverbs and Job.
• The Megilloth or Festival Books: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther.
• The Latter Restoration Books:
Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah (combined into one) and Chronicles (combined into one).
This original order is completely chronological. This will be more thoroughly appreciated once we study the canonization and other historical aspects.
There is another aspect of the significance of the number 22. Sextus Senensis, a Jewish scholar, A.D. 1520, is credited with the following statement: “As with the Hebrews there are 22 letters, in which ALL that can be said and written are comprehended, so there are 22 books in which are contained ALL there can be known and uttered of divine things” (Introduction to the Old Testament, Green, p. 87).
With the significance of the 22 books or scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, a type of an alphabetical “acrostic” most likely paralleled those 22 books. An acrostic exists when 22 verses each begin with a word spelled with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each letter (beginning with the first) continues in order all through the alphabet in sequence. In other words, the first letter of the alphabet corresponds with the first letter of the first verse. Then the second letter of the alphabet corresponds with the first letter of the second verse, and so on. The parts of an acrostic can be single verses each, or sets of verses, or possibly chapters or even books.
An example of a complete acrostic is Psalm 119. Here, eight verses are grouped together into 22 sets of verses. The first letter of all eight verses of each set is the same letter of the alphabet. Thus the first eight verses begin with the first letter, the next eight verses all begin with the second letter of the alphabet, and so on. Not only is this poetic chapter a perfect and complete acrostic, the syllables of each verse have to perfectly match each other, because it was set to music.
Psalm 119 covers the subject of the Law of God being perfect and complete. Thus, a perfect and complete acrostic is used to emphasize that completeness. Every single verse of this chapter in the original Hebrew mentions the Law of God, using terms such as law, precepts, judgments, statutes, commandments, etc. The eight verses per meter, times the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, equals 176. There are precisely 176 verses in Psalms 119.
Together, Psalms 111 and 112 form a complete acrostic showing that God will completely redeem His people. Both chapters contain 10 verses each, but the 10th verse of both chapters contains two sections.
The way our Bibles are divided into chapters and verses does not always properly coincide with the method or intent with which these were written. Proverbs 31:10-31 contains 22 verses forming another complete and perfect acrostic. These verses describe a complete and perfect woman. Another complete acrostic is found in the book of Lamentations, which emphasizes the complete destruction upon all Israel.
A broken acrostic runs through Psalms 9 and 10. Here, seven letters seem to be purposely left out. This is said to represent the broken condition that will occur on earth during the time frame that Psalms 9 and 10 portray in the prophetic sense.
During Christ’s time (as documented by Josephus and various others), the Hebrew Scriptures consisted of 22 books. As a point of interest, when one adds the 22 books of these Scriptures to the 27 books of the New Testament, a total of 49 books results. To the Jews, the number of 49 (seven times seven) represents absolute completion.
(Also, if every one of the Old Testament books are counted individually—and the Psalms are counted as five because of their natural division—the Old Testament total is 43 books. Adding this to the New Testament total of 27 yields the number 70, which is ten times God’s number of completion or perfection.)
By the second century, many Jews became somewhat envious of the significance of “their” Scriptures being combined with the New Testament to give a total of 49 books. At that time, the Jews adjusted the order of the Hebrew Scriptures to increase the number to 24. This was done by dividing Joshua-Judges into two books and by dividing Samuel-Kings into two books, giving a new total of 24 books (see The Design and Development of the Holy Scriptures [Outline], E.L. Martin, pp. 9, 12).
This slight rearrangement by the Jews gave a different number, but the books within a division were never moved to another division.
Before and during this time, the Jews had complete disgust for the Egyptian Septuagint Version, which totally reshuffled the books of the second and third divisions (the Prophets and the Writings).
As mentioned before, this is where the Catholics inherited their erroneous order of the Old Testament and passed it on to us today in the same distorted order, through the King James Version and most all other versions available today.
Some have observed that many Hebrew Bibles bear the label TANAK (or often TANAKH) on the front cover and have asked what this means. This name is actually derived from the three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures:
TORAH is the name given to the division on the Law of God—first 5 books.
NEBEE-EEM is the name for the Prophets division.
KETHUVEEN is the Writings division.
By taking the initial letters of the three titles (T,N,K) they form the word TANAK. The Bible of the Jews was named for these three major divisions. This shows their acceptance of the true divisions, as opposed to various corrupted versions like the Septuagint.
Moses compiled and wrote all 5 books of the Law (Pentateuch) during the 40 years in the wilderness. He used pre-Flood documents and other sources to compile the book of Genesis.
Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus were written during the very first years in the wilderness. Numbers was written as the continuous record of the journey through the wilderness. Of course, at the outset, Moses never anticipated that the journey would last 40 years. The book of Deuteronomy was written during the very last months at the end of the journey.
Just before his death, Moses presented to the priesthood of Israel the five books he had compiled and written (Deut. 31:9). These were stored in the sides of the Ark of the Covenant. Under authority of the high priest, scribes made copies of these scrolls.
All the kings of Israel were required to copy the entire Pentateuch, or five books of the Law. This precept was added by Samuel and observed by David, Solomon, and later by most of the kings of Judah.
Next, the Book of Joshua/Judges was written by Samuel. This book was classified with the prophets mainly because it was written by a prophet—Samuel. The work was primarily historic, but laid the groundwork for the following books of Samuel/Kings and the Latter Prophets. Samuel established the prophetic order with his “company of the prophets” throughout Israel (I Sam. 10:5, 10; 19:20).
Some of the historic facts from the book of Joshua were most likely compiled from sources generated by Joshua and some of the loyal servants of God that followed after him. By the same token, much of the detailed information of the history of the earlier kings of Israel and Judah was most likely recorded by Elijah and later compiled and written by Isaiah for the section of Kings in the Book of Samuel/Kings. After all, who was more qualified to write of the experiences of Elijah than Elijah himself?
Elijah carried on with the Prophetic Order of schools in Israel that Samuel had inaugurated over 200 years earlier (II Kgs. 2:3, 5; 4:38). (One of the purposes of these schools must have been to document historic events and transcribe previous records to be compiled at some later time into canonized manuscripts. Elisha and others associated with these schools for the prophets certainly contributed to the historic records after the time of Elijah.)
Obviously, the books of the major and minor prophets were written by the authors to whom the books are attributed. These prophets wrote and sealed their own works, to be added to the Scriptures during subsequent times of canonization.
King David wrote and canonized much of the Psalms. David had assembled all the building materials together (his son, Solomon, would build the Temple after his death). David established the 24 (two week) courses for the priests and for the Levites and singers, as well. He wrote two of the five books. These first two books consisted of the first 72 chapters of Psalms, the official Psalms used for the Temple service by the singers.
The Psalms dedicated to Asaph and to Korah were also written by David and dedicated to these outstanding singers. These Psalms would include most of Book 3. Other contributors to the book of Psalms included Moses (author of Psalm 90 and a number of the following Psalms in book 4). More of David’s Psalms appear in book 5 along with some the Psalms of degrees written by Hezekiah.
Solomon compiled and wrote the Proverbs after the time of David. Agur of Proverbs 30 and Lemuel of Proverbs 31 both refer to Solomon. Lemuel means “the king who rejected God.” I Kings 11:1-8 shows that Solomon later did just that.
Though Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon were written by Solomon, these books, along with other writings, were not canonized until the time of Ezra, as we will soon examine.
During the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Isaiah the prophet (this was during Isaiah’s younger years), the threat of attack and captivity by Assyria was very real. Hezekiah and Isaiah proceeded to canonize certain books for the remnants of Israel and Judah to look to for proper guidance, in case all religious services were suspended by an Assyrian invasion and captivity.
At this time, Israel had already been recently taken into captivity. Much of Judah had later been taken into captivity by the Assyrians (II Kgs. 18:13). These Jews were taken to Eastern Europe where many still live to this day. Only the Jews of Jerusalem were spared along with other Jews who were able to find refuge behind Jerusalem’s walls. Jerusalem was spared due to God’s favor toward King Hezekiah (II Kgs. 18:5-7).
Each of the 15 Psalms of degrees (chapters 120-134) coincides with one of the 15 steps leading to the Temple. The singers would advance one step daily with each of the Psalms of degrees at a designated time of the year in their worship service. Of these Psalms, five were attributed to David, another to Solomon, and scholars attribute the other nine to Hezekiah, who also canonized much of the Psalms. Isaiah 38:9-21 shows an extensive psalm by Hezekiah. Certainly he was gifted and qualified enough to compose some of the Psalms.
Hezekiah established a “tri-grammaton” symbol, which indicated that a book of the Scriptures was officially bound or confirmed—canonized. This was continually used to seal canonized books after his time.
Later during the time of King Josiah, Judah was under threat of invasion and captivity as had occurred during the time of Hezekiah about 85 years earlier. Josiah was assisted and advised by certain servants of God, including Jeremiah. This somewhat paralleled the time of Hezekiah, in which he was assisted and advised by Isaiah.
Another similarity was that both Hezekiah and Josiah had been preceded by very wicked fathers. When both ascended to the throne, they re-established the true worship of God in Judah and both reopened and restored the Temple that had been closed and defiled by their evil fathers.
During Josiah’s time, the threat came from Babylon. Yet, Josiah besought God and peace was promised to Judah as long as he lived (II Chron. 34:27-28). He was much beloved of God for his righteous zeal (II Kgs. 23:25). During this time, additional scripture was canonized primarily by Jeremiah. This canonization involved most of the minor prophets.
Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations after Josiah was killed in battle—much to the dismay of Jeremiah and all Judah. Lamentations is indeed prophetic of what the modern descendants of Israel are yet to suffer, although written in the shadows of the imminent invasion by Babylon. The book of Jeremiah was not completed until well after the fall of Jerusalem.
During the captivity of Judah in Babylon, Daniel was in an exalted position of power and had authority to preserve Hebrew Scriptures as they were taken to Babylon.
Most likely, there were a number of copies in addition to the Temple Scriptures. The various references that Daniel made to the Scriptures were authentic, as he had access to them and carefully examined them (Dan. 9:2, 11).
Ezra was the priest and scribe who gathered all the books and made the final canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Some of the historical background of that time will be covered shortly, but first we should focus upon some of the editing that Ezra and others made to clarify certain portions of Scripture.
Ezra inserted some editorial notes to clarify to the Jews of his time the current names of certain towns mentioned in the Law. Some of the editorial notes attributed to Ezra are Genesis 14:7, 17; 23:2, 19; 36:31-39.
Samuel added some important parts to the Law. In I Samuel 10:25, which states, “Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD,” the term “a book” should be “the book.” This indicates that Samuel wrote in a book that already existed. The only book that was laid up before the LORD at that time was the law of Moses.
Deuteronomy 17:14-20 is the part that Samuel added, dealing with instructions concerning a king over Israel. Ezra later inserted editorial comments in Deuteronomy 34:5-6, and 10 pertaining to Moses after the time of his death.
As stated above, Ezra was responsible for the final canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was understood in the first century that the prophetic spirit in that era had ended with Ezra.
Ezra came to Jerusalem and Judea after the Babylonian captivity, where 50,000 Jews had returned to rebuild Jerusalem and other cities. The Temple had been rebuilt by about 515 B.C. Most of these returning exiles were not zealous to obey God. Many had intermarried with the surrounding idolatrous gentiles. In about 457 B.C., God sent Ezra to rectify the situation.
Ezra 7:10 summarizes: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”
Ezra came with 2,000 priests, Levites, and servants of the Temple to restore the worship of God. This process of turning the Jews back to God took about 13 years.
Nehemiah, who was sent to be governor over Judea, assisted Ezra in restoring the true worship in Judea. Ezra and Nehemiah summoned all the Jewish leaders together to sign a special covenant that they would henceforth obey the laws of God (Neh. 10:28-39). However, the high priest Eliashib was not present at this gathering.
This meeting established the governing assembly in Judea known as the Great Assembly. It was headed by Ezra, Nehemiah and all the principle priests and elders of Judea. This 120-member assembly also convened to establish which books were to be canonized. They assisted Ezra in his responsibility of final canonization during the years that followed. After Ezra’s death, the high priest was to preside over the Great Assembly.
Eliashib, who never met with the assembly, disagreed with Ezra and the assembly. Eliashib had other allegiances (Neh. 13:4-7). His grandson, Manasseh, was married to a Samaritan princess. This represented a political-religious alliance between the top families of Samaria and Judea.
Manasseh was excommunicated from Judea. He relocated to Samaria, where Samballat (his wife’s father) made him high priest of the Samaritans. One of the points of the above-mentioned covenant was for those who married gentile wives to put them away.
Manasseh refused to give up his Samaritan wife. This event was the real beginning of the Samaritan form of religion, and the beginning of reasons for later antagonism that developed between Samaritans and Jews. Manasseh had a temple built on Mt. Gerizim (a counterfeit of the Temple on Mt. Zion). He also rejected all the Hebrew Scriptures except the Pentateuch—the five books of the Law.
Ezra and the Great Assembly later divided the Hebrew Scriptures into the 3 major divisions and 22 individual books. Ezra changed the Jewish script to square script, as had been used in Babylon, in order for Jews to recognize Samaritan schemes to pass their counterfeit writings as canonized Scripture. The Temple Scriptures and eventually all copies of it were changed to square script.
Since the Samaritans had also corrupted the Sacred Calendar, Ezra changed the names of the months to the names of those the Jews learned in Babylon. Thus, Abib became Nisan, Zif became Iyar, etc. The Babylonian names for the months of the calendar have been retained to this day.
Chronicles was written by Ezra. Isaiah had long since written the Book of the Kingdoms (Samuel/Kings). The outlook of the book of Chronicles was from a priestly perspective. Ezra emphasizes throughout this book that Jerusalem has always been the headquarters of God’s government. This was emphasized to show that the Samaritans were falsely claiming they were the center of God’s religion.
Ezra references 15 secular sources to validate his claim, while the Book of the Kingdoms gave hardly any outside secular sources. Ezra, along with Nehemiah, took careful measures to counter the deceitful tactics of the Samaritans by canonizing the Hebrew Scriptures (source of the Old Testament). Likewise, the Samaritans’ descendants, under Simon Magus, counterfeited the New Testament, forcing the apostles to canonize it.
How do we know that we have the same Hebrew Scriptures that Ezra canonized? After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, preservation became the responsibility of Jewish religious leaders instead of the state. Several Jewish sects made sure that the others did not change the text.
In the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., some of the Jews tried to replace the official text with illegitimate ones. To stop this effort, the officials restored the old authoritative manuscripts handed down since pre-Roman days. These were made the standard text—the Massoretic Text. This is the same one followed today and is the same set of scriptures that Ezra canonized.