The Book we call the Bible



To  be considered  to have  come from  an  all-powerful God,  a book  must meet
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
multitude more)...
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 [1].

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 [2]!

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 [3]. 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 [4].  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 [5]. 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 [6].

The Old Testament Canon


As  prophesized by  the  Lord Jesus Christ, the   Jewish sacrificial system was
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 [7].

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 [8].

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 [7]!
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 [9].

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) [11].
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 [7]. 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.


 [1] Greenslade, S. L., ed. "Cambridge History of the Bible". New York:
     Cambridge University Press, 1963.
 [2] Encyclopedia Britanica 3 (1970).
 [3] Montegomery, J.W. "History and Christianity", Downer's Grove, IL.
     InterVarsity Press, 1971.

 [4] Geiser, N.L. and Nix, W.E. "A General Introduction to the Bible",
     Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.

 [5] Lea, John W. "The Greatest Book in the World", Philadelphia, 1929.

 [6] McAfee, C.B. "The Greatest English Classic", New York, 1912.
 [7] Bruce, F.F. "The Books and The Parchments", Rev. ed. Westwood: Fleming
     H. Revell Co., 1963.

 [8] 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.

 [9] Leach, C. "Our Bible: How We Got It", Chicago: Moody Press, 1898.

[10] Kenyon, F. G. "Handbook to the textual Critisism of the New Testament",
     London: Macmillan and Co., 1901.

[11] Davidson, S. "Hebrew Text of the Old Testament", 2nd ed. London: Samuel
     Bagster & Sons, 1859.