The Book we call
To be considered to have come from an all-powerful God, a book must
certain requirements. First, it must be transmitted to us accurately from the
time it was originally written so that we may have an exact representation of
what God said and did. Also, it must be correct when it deals with historical
personages and events. A book that confuses names, dates and events has no
right to claim it comes from an infallible God. Furthermore, any revelation
from God should be without any scientific absurdities which would betray that
it came by mere human authorship. The bible meets the above requirements and
much, much more.
Uniqueness of the Bible
The Bible is unique, "different from all others", in the following ways (plus a
The Bible is unique in its "continuity". It's a book written over a 1,500 year
span; written over 40 generations; written by more than 40 authors, from every
walk of life -- including kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets,
statesmen, scholars, prophets, ... etc. It's a book written in different places
ranging from the wilderness of Mount Sinai to the prison walls of Paul! It's a
book written at different times of peace and war, at different moods of joy and
sorrow. It's a book written on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe),
written in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). Finally, it's a book
whose subject matter includes hundreds of topics. Yet, the biblical authors
spoke with harmony and continuity from Genesis to Revelation about one
unfolding story: "God's redemption of the human race."
The Bible is unique in its "circulation". The Bible has been read by more
people and published in more languages than any other book in history. More
than 40 years ago, the British and Foreign Bible Society had to publish "one
copy every three seconds day and night; 22 copies every minute; 1,369 copies
every hour of every day; 32,876 copies every day. No other book has known
anything approaching this constant circulation .
The Bible is unique in its "translation". It is one of the first major books
translated. It has been translated and retranslated, and paraphrased, more than
any other book in existence. The Encyclopedia Britanica says that "by 1966, the
whole Bible has appeared in 240 languages and dialects. One or more of the
Bible's books has been translated to 739 additional ones." Between 1950 and
1960, more than 3000 Bible translators were at work !
The Bible is unique in its "survival". Being written on material that perishes
and having to be copied and recopied for hundreds of years before the invention
of the printing press did not diminish the style, correctness, or existence of
the Bible. Compared with other ancient writings, the Bible has more manuscript
evidence than any ten pieces of classical literature combined . The Bible
survived not only time, but also persecution, both political and
intellectual. Voltaire, the noted French writer, who died in 1778, said that in
one hundred years from his time Christianity would be swept from
existence. Only fifty years after Voltaire's death, the Geneva Bible Society
used his press and his house to produce stacks of Bibles . What an irony of
history! The Bible survives every day through criticism. No other book has been
so chopped, knived, sifted, scrutinized, and vilified. No other book has been
subjected to such mass attacks . Nevertheless, it remains the book most read
and most cherished until this very day. If this criticism was ever effective in
the past, it would have rendered the Bible unworthy of the critics' attention
today. The fact that critics continue to target the Bible proves that their
past criticism did nothing less than strengthen the belief in the Bible itself!
The Bible is unique in its "influence" on surrounding literature. As we
affirmed at the outset, it is the book most quoted; the book most referenced;
and the book most studied. From the Apostolic Fathers dating from A.D. 95 to
modern times is one great literary river inspired by the Bible --- Bible
dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, Bible lexicons, Bible atlases, and Bible
geographies. This is in addition to the vast bibliographies around theology,
religious education, hymnology, missions, the biblical languages, church
history, religious biography, devotional works, commentaries, philosophy of
religion, evidences, apologetics, and on and on .
The Old Testament Canon
As prophesized by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Jewish sacrificial system
ended by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. The Old
Testament canon was settled in the Jewish mind long before that year. However,
the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish religious
authority developed a need for a canon that would be more definitive; the jews
were scattered and needed to determine which books were authoritative because
of the many extra-scriptural writings and the decentralization. In particular,
the need for an Old-testament canon was prompted by the increased circulation
of Christian writings amongst the Jews themselves.
When the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple was imminent, a great
rabbi belonging to the school of Hillel in the Pharisaic party--Yochanan ben
Zakkai by name--obtained permission from the Romans to reconstitute the
Sanhedrin on a purely spiritual basis at Jabneh (Jamnia), between Joppa and
Azotus (Ashod). Some of the discussions which went on at Jamnia were handed
down by oral transmission and ultimately recorded in the rabbinical
writings. Their debates focussed on whether canonical recognition should be
accorded to some books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs and
Esther). The upshot of the Jamnia debates was the firm acknowledgement of all
these books as Holy Scripture .
Before the Jamnia debates and conclusions (A.D. 70-90), the canon of the Old
Testament was well established in the Jewish mind. The Old Testament was broken
down into three major parts: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This
breakdown is evident in the sayings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New
Testament [Luke 24:44, 11:51] and [Matthew 23:35]. The Law (Torah) consists of
the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and
Deuteronomy). The Prophets (Nebhim) consists of books of the Former Prophets
(Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Ezekial, and The Twelve). The Writings (Kethubhim) consists of the Poetical
Books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), the Five Rolls (Song of Songs, Ruth,
Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes), and the Historical Books (Daniel,
Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles).
Although the Christian church has the same Old Testament canon, the number of
books differs because Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are divided into two books
each. The order of books also differs. In addition to the canonical Jewish Old
Testament, the Coptic Orthodox Church as well as most Apostolic churches,
including the Roman Catholic church recognize few other Jewish books as part of
the inspired Old Testament. These are the Deutro-canonical books, often
referred to as the "Apocrypha", from the Greek word "apokruphos", which means
The New Testament Canon
When the Synod of Hippo in A.D. 393 listed the twenty-seven books of the New
Testament, it did not confer upon them any authority which they did not already
possess, but simply recorded their previously established canonicity. The
ruling of the Synod of Hippo was repromulgated four years later by the Third
Synod of Carthag.
Long before these councils were convened, from the very early years of the
church, Christians, especially local church elders, were constantly collecting,
evaluating and deciding which of the many writings of their day carried the
authority of the Apostles [Colossians 4:16] [2-Peter 3:15-16]. The question
asked of any writing to be read in the churches was: To what extent is this
book (epistle, narrative, apocalypse, or gospel) an authentic and pure
representation of the life and teachings of Jesus and His apostles? The content
of the canon was, therefore, determined by general usage, not by authoritarian
First century Christians saw in the words of Lord Jesus and the writings of the
Apostles an authority of divine inspiration. They venerated these writings and
the tradition very much. The deaths of the Apostles by the end of the first
century elevated the importance of their writings as Christians saw the need to
preserve what the Apostles have reported. This preservation was done mostly
through oral teaching from one generation to the next. This "oral tradition"
continued for the second and third centuries. But, as time passed, an
increasing circulation of books recognized as either not in accordance with the
Apostle's teachings (i.e. heretical) or not written by them even though an
Apostle's name may have been attached to them (i.e. pseudonymous), motivated
the believers to become increasingly concerned about identifying the authentic
works of the Apostles. It is this concern that eventually led to the Synod of
Hippo in A.D. 393 .
New Testament Manuscripts
There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add
to that over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions and
we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in
existence. No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers
and attestation. In comparison, the "Iliad" by Homer is second with only 643
manuscripts that still survive. Other works such as the writings of Livy,
Plato, and Herodotus have no more than 20 surviving manuscripts !
Besides the number of manuscripts that survived, the New Testament is unique in
that the time span between its composition and the date of the earliest
existing manuscript is incredibly short compared to other classical works. The
time span between composition and earliest manuscript for most of the New
Testament books range at about 100-125 years. This is to be compared with spans
of 1,000-1,600 years for the classical works of Caesar, Plato, Tacitus,
Herodotus, Suetonius, Horace, Sophocles, Aristotle, Euripides, Aristophanes,
Catullus, and many more [9-10]!
In the entire range of ancient Greek and Latin literature, the Iliad ranks next
to the New Testament in possessing the greatest amount of manuscript
testimony. Only 40 lines (about 400 words) of he entire New Testament are in
doubt, whereas 764 lines of the Iliad are questioned. This translates to five
percent for the Iliad as opposed to one-half of one percent for the New
Testament! A careful study of the variants (different readings) of the various
earliest manuscripts of the New Testament reveals that none of them affects a
single doctrine of Scripture.
The reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is also supported by the
writings of the early church Fathers. Suppose that the New Testament had been
destroyed, and every copy of it lost by the end of the third century (that's
100 years before the Synod of Hippo canonized the New Testament), how much of
it could be collected from the writings of the Fathers of the second and third
centuries? The answer is stunning! All of it except for eleven verses .
Old Testament Manuscripts
Until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest complete extant
Hebrew manuscript was around A.D. 900. This made a time gap of 1,300 years
between when the Old Testament was completed (around 400 B.C.) and when the
earliest manuscript was written (around 900 A.D.) Despite this seemingly long
time span, one needs to examine the extreme care with which the copyists
transcribed the Old Testament. Here are some of the rules that the Talmudists
(A.D. 100 - 500) used when they transcribed the Old Testament... A synagogue
roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, prepared for this
particular use by a jew. The skins must be fastened together with strings taken
from clean animals. Every skin (page) must contain a certain number of columns,
equal through the entire codex. The length of each column must not exceed 48 or
60 lines; and the breadth must consist of 30 letters. The whole copy must be
first lined. The ink to be used must be black and prepared according to a
specific recipe. An authentic copy must be the exemplar. No word or letter, not
even a yod, must be written from memory. There are hundreds of such rules for
every aspect of the transcription. The same care and even stricter rules were
followed during the Masoretic period (A.D. 500-900) .
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in A.D. 1947 provided an incredible
proof for the authenticity and reliability of the Old Testament
manuscripts. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to about 125 B.C. (i.e. almost two
centuries before the dawn of Christianity around the end of the first century
A.D.) One of the complete books found in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea were
two copies of Isaiah. These books were a thousand year older than the oldest
dated manuscripts previously known. Nevertheless, they proved to be word for
word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the
text . The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of pen
and variations in spelling. Even those Dead Sea fragments of Deuteronomy and
Samuel which point to a different manuscript family from that which underlies
our received Hebrew text do not indicate any differences in doctrine or
teaching. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest.
 Greenslade, S. L., ed. "Cambridge History of the Bible". New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1963.
 Encyclopedia Britanica 3 (1970).
 Montegomery, J.W. "History and Christianity", Downer's Grove, IL.
InterVarsity Press, 1971.
 Geiser, N.L. and Nix, W.E. "A General Introduction to the Bible",
Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.
 Lea, John W. "The Greatest Book in the World", Philadelphia, 1929.
 McAfee, C.B. "The Greatest English Classic", New York, 1912.
 Bruce, F.F. "The Books and The Parchments", Rev. ed. Westwood: Fleming
H. Revell Co., 1963.
 Gurthrie, D. "Canon of Scripture", In the New International Dictionary
of the Christian Church", Rev. ed. J.D. Douglas, ed. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1974.
 Leach, C. "Our Bible: How We Got It", Chicago: Moody Press, 1898.
 Kenyon, F. G. "Handbook to the textual Critisism of the New Testament",
London: Macmillan and Co., 1901.
 Davidson, S. "Hebrew Text of the Old Testament", 2nd ed. London: Samuel
Bagster & Sons, 1859.