How We Got the Bible
by Terry Wane Benton
The Bible is one united book composed of 66 books. Where did it come from? Why was it written? Who caused these books to be written? The Bible gives the answers to these questions. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:20-21). All scripture is given by “inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:15-17). The word “inspiration” means “God-breathed.” That means that the words in each of these 66 books were first “breathed” from God’s mind into the mind of each writer. Each writer was “moved along by the Holy Spirit” to write what they wrote.
They are “holy scripture” because they are holy or sacred. They are more important than any other writings of men because these men wrote with the Holy Spirit guiding them to say the words God wanted to be said. There are important documents among men such as the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. But these do not hold a candle to the Scriptures in importance. The Bible is the Word of God. It not only claims to be the Word of God, but it shows the marks of superhuman knowledge in proving itself to be the Word of God. It has features of prophecy and foreshadowing that are not within the capability of man to invent on their own. “Holy” means separated above other writings to an elevated status or position. “Scripture” means “writings.” Holy Scripture means sacred writings.
A Book of History
The Old Testament section of the Bible was collected over time among the nation of Israel. They were written in Hebrew by various writers. Moses gave the first five books, called the Pentateuch, also referred to as the Law section or Torah. His books were written to inform the developing nation of Israel of their developmental history from Creation to deliverance from Egyptian bondage to Sinai to the edge of entering the Promised Land of Canaan.
- Genesis was about why God began their development from a family to tribes. A big plan of “blessing” all families of the earth was to come through a certain seed-line of Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, and then Judah.
- Exodus was the story of exiting Egypt, receiving the Law of God, covenanting with God, building a tabernacle for typology, and staying God-focused.
- The tribe of Levi was separated to take care of sacrificial needs, thus the holy rules of the book of Leviticus.
- The numbering of the people for separating a military and other purposes and how they journeyed in the wilderness is presented in the book of Numbers.
- Just before going into the Promised Land after the 40-year wandering in the wilderness, Moses went over their responsibilities again, which gives us the book of Deuteronomy (which means the second giving of the Law).
These were the first of the sacred writings among this newly developing nation.
These people were God’s holy nation for purposes of staging for a coming Messiah who would save people from sin, reverse the damage that sin brought into the world, and bring about a return to union with God and man together in Paradise. These five books began from Moses as God’s testimony of His plan and kept the record of the sacred genealogy that would eventually bring us the greater prophet (Deuteronomy18:15f) and the greater leader out of bondage. These were written in stone and in papyri as writing was becoming the commonplace means of communication.
Other books were added over time as history marched onward. Each book that came from God through various prophets of God was combined with the previous sacred books accumulating over the next 1400 years from Moses to Malachi. By the time of Malachi, the world around Israel and in Israel was changing with various changes of kingdoms around them. There would be 400 years between the last writing of the Old Testament and Jesus. During that 400 year period, the Hebrew books would be translated into the Greek language as the Grecian Empire began to dominate, and the Greek translation was known as the Septuagint. It was completed at least 200 years before Christ.
A Book of Judgment
The collection known to us as the Old Testament held promises and predictions of the Messiah, held sacred by the Jews even though it gave a pretty disgusting but truthful exposure of the Israelites themselves. So, the collection of sacred writings were not a great compliment to Israel. It was a testimonial complement to how the true God could work His plan in spite of the obstacles of Israel’s stubbornness, fickleness, and rebelliousness. It is a story of amazing ups and downs, but God working His plan to bring the great blessing for all the world, working through Israel to bring us all the Messiah-Savior.
The sacred, God-given Scriptures were collected from writing prophets over the history of Israel. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:20-21). The prophets were given a hard task in trying to whip the Israelites back into shape as they often went astray. Moses knew that he was dealing with “stiff-necked” people. So, he and other prophets were not complimentary to the Israelites. These sacred writings give Israel much rebuke, and as they temporarily repented, they had to admit that these writings were correct about their history, even as it identified their stubborn and faithless history. How could they count these writings sacred and right when it does not compliment them very much?
"And the Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!" (Exodus 32:9 NKJV).
"Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Exodus 33:3 NKJV).
"Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Deuteronomy 9:6 NKJV).
Usually, people turn away forever from such records of insult, and yet these people had to admit that Moses and God were right and they were wrong. Their own collection of books pointed out that God gave them their land, not because they were good and righteous, but because He had a higher plan to bring in the Messiah through them, a Messiah who would be a Savior for all nations.
A Book of Prophecy
The prophets not only warned them of coming wars and captivities, but the predictions were right every time. The prophets warned them of the Assyrian invasion, and it happened. It told of Judah being conquered by the Babylonians, being taken into captivity for 70 years and it happened exactly as predicted. It told of the defeat of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, and it happened. It told of the fall of their Jerusalem temple and the Babylonians destroyed it just as predicted. The prophets were always right and therefore their writings were collected all along and held as holy. Only God could give such predictions and bring them to pass.
They prophesied the fall of great cities like Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, and Jerusalem, and were accurate every time. The Israelites had to admit that they were wrong so many times before God, but these writings were God’s messages of truth. With all the doom, there was always a hope of a coming Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27), who would bless all nations (Genesis 12:1-4; 22:7-18). A new covenant was coming in which there would be forgiveness of sins (Jer.31:30-31) and it would be different, a “covenant of peace” (Ezekiel 34:23-30; 37:24-26). So, the true and living God rebuked and disciplined these stiff-necked people but did not cast them off because He promised a coming Messiah through them.
A God-Given Book
Isaiah would tell them to listen up “for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 1:2) and then write out his book of what the Lord was saying through him. God was not interested in their “futile” sacrifices where they brought Him materials and festivals but no heart (Isaiah 1:10-18). They were like Sodom to Him. God was always pleading for their repentance, and while bringing disciplinary measures upon them, always held out hope in the coming Messiah. Therefore, these writings of Moses and the prophets were always known to be right, and therefore respected as a “thus saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 2:1) and “the word of the Lord came to me” (Jeremiah 1:4) and “I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1) and “He said to me” (Ezekiel 2:1), etc. All of the prophets were known to demonstrate knowledge that no man could or would have spoken by their own wisdom. Therefore, the 39 books of the Old Testament were the collection of writings among the Jews to have passed the smell test of what was God-given writing versus works that were merely from the wisdom of men.
Jesus recognized these 39 books as sacred writings, so important that man should live by every word of them and they cannot be broken (Matthew 4:4; John 10:35). By the time of Jesus, the collection of Sacred Scriptures had already been established as far as the Old Covenant was concerned. But remember that the Old Covenant scriptures had already predicted the coming of “the New Covenant” (Jeremiah 31:30-31). So, more scriptures would be coming with the coming in of the Messianic age.
An Accurate Book
The Hebrew scriptures were copied and used among the Jews as the very words of God. The 39 books were authoritatively established among the Jews as the “truth.” As it was being developed over the years, one book at a time from various authors at different places and times, they were collected, copied, and passed along among the various tribes and families of Israel. The view they held of these sacred writings was: “Every word of God is true.” It was the measure of all the words of men. Since God is all-wise, His revealed words were free of error. All else was measured against what the scriptures of truth had to say on the topic at hand.
From Moses’ writings onward to the time of David, that attitude toward the written word was as follows:
"For the word of the Lord is right, And all His work is done in truth" (Psalms 33:4 NKJV).
"For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations" (Psalms 100:5 NKJV).
They did not believe that the scriptures changed according to culture or that in a few generations the scriptures could be altered so that truth would not endure with the passing of time. Scribes were so respectful of the sacred nature of scriptures that they cross-checked each other as they made their copies to spread to other people.
"For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever" (Psalm 117:2 NKJV).
"Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth" (Psalms 119:142 NKJV).
"You are near, O Lord, And all Your commandments are truth. Concerning Your testimonies, I have known of old that You have founded them forever" (Psalms 119:151-152 NKJV).
"The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever" (Psalms 119:160 NKJV).
Notice that they did not believe that just some of the sacred books were truth, nor that it was left up to each man to decide for themselves which parts that they wanted to believe and which parts that they didn’t have to believe. The whole body of sacred writings was the truth. It is clear that to them you believed it all or you rejected it all. There was no middle ground on which to stand. From the time of David and the other Psalmists, we move our attention to the time of Daniel the prophet. Indeed, there was something described as “Scripture of Truth.”
"Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? And now I must return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, indeed the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. (No one upholds me against these, except Michael your prince)" " (Daniel 10:20-21 NKJV).
Nehemiah records an occasion when many Jews came back home from the Babylonian captivity. They were hungry to hear God’s word. They told Ezra to bring “the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord commanded Israel” (Nehemiah 8:1). The people stood up when Ezra opened the Book (Nehemiah 8:5), and he read from it from morning to midday. It was the most important Book. It was God’s Book. It was the Book of all books. It should be held in great reverence and respect.
Accurately Preserving the Book
As the Hebrews held these “Scripture of Truth” they saw the importance of translating it as their culture merged with the Hellenistic culture. As the Greek language began to dominate, it was not practical for the “Scripture of Truth” to be held only in a dying language. Thus, many Jewish scholars formed a team to translate the scriptures from Hebrew to Greek, which we have briefly noted is the Septuagint version. This was done about 200 years before Jesus was born. It held all the sacred books of God’s writing prophets of Israel. As the Grecian empire faded, the language did not, and the Roman Empire emerged and took control of the land of Israel.
Jesus was born according to the prophecies of the proven and dependable scriptures. It was common to speak the Greek language and make use of the Septuagint version. All of the 39 books of the Old Testament were in full use for 200 to 400 years before Jesus was born. The claim that these books were altered to look like they fit Jesus is false. The amazing thing about the Old Testament is that it foreshadows Jesus and testifies of so many things about Jesus long before He arrived, and left a track record that shows they were not altered. No Jew in the first century accused the books of being altered to fit Jesus. But Jesus made the claim that Moses “testified of Me” (John 5:46-47). The time to argue that the scriptures had been altered would have been when Jesus used an altered scripture. But in His time on earth, there was the prevailing understanding that “the scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:35). The Jews that wanted to entrap Jesus would have loved to have found Him misusing a sacred scripture, but all agreed that you don’t tamper with the sacred writings. Thus, the Old Covenant Scriptures had been soundly established before Jesus’ time on earth and retained their “truth” recognized heavenly authority for many centuries.
The Hebrew scriptures were kept in categories: The Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets (Luke 24:44). While the arrangement of the books have changed from time to time, the content has remained the same. Whereas our Bible has 39 Books in the Old Testament, the categories of arrangement in previous times showed only twenty-two. The twelve minor prophets were bunched together as one book instead of twelve, there was Samuel instead of First and Second Samuel; Kings instead of First and Second Kings, Chronicles instead of First and Second Chronicles. Same material, just divided differently.
The writing of the Old Testament spans some 1,000 years from 1500 BC to 450 BC. Handwritten copies called manuscripts were made on finely prepared animal skins which were sewn together to form long scrolls. The oldest surviving Hebrew manuscripts are in two groups: 1) The Masoretic Text and 2) the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Masoretes worked from 500 AD to 1000 AD to give us the Hebrew text, but this meant that as older copies were destroyed due to wear and tear, the surviving manuscripts were getting further removed in time from the original writings. Could error have crept in over the years yielding to an unreliable modern text? The Jews were meticulous in keeping only perfect copies and destroying the imperfect and worn-out copies. However, in 1947 an Arab shepherd boy discovered some scrolls in caves along the Dead Sea. These scrolls were written from 200 BC to about AD 68 by a sect of Jewish scribes in the community of Qumran. These manuscripts and fragments helped to prove that the Masoretic text had not been corrupted or altered. It is no wonder that Jesus had rightly trusted the accuracy and dependability of the 39 books He had read and used in His time on earth.
The power of the prophetic scriptures in identifying Jesus as “mighty God” and "Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6f) is that Jesus, if He truly is the Son of God (John 20:30,31), would know if the Old Scriptures were reliable and accurate. Jesus would know if the stories were myth and fable. He would not be deceived about the divine nature of these sacred writings. Jesus used the Septuagint with no concern for translation inaccuracy. To Jesus’ disciples the “prophetic word was more sure” (II Peter 1:19). Because the Jews fulfilled their own scriptures in rejecting Jesus, “the stone you builders rejected” it was inevitable that unbelieving Jewish scholars became more liberal and less trusting of their scriptures, but that the early disciples of Jesus became more sure of the Old Scriptures. Paul would explain that the Jews would read the Old Testament with a veil over their hearts (II Corinthians 3:18). If they allow themselves to see Jesus as the Lord their scriptures predicted, the veil over their hearts would then be removed and they too could see the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ.
Liberal scholarship is just reading the scriptures with predetermined colored glasses. Or reading with a veil over the heart that will not see clearly because the agenda is set to darken the perception. The Bible did not come down to the time of Jesus all distorted and altered. Jesus confirmed the reliability of the scriptures, and by fulfilling them made disciples even more confident, “more sure,” of the scriptures enough to keep making personal handwritten copies.
The scriptures made people rich inside with faith, hope, and love, enriching their hearts with confident hope. The Bible is a powerful testimony to God and His plan for faithful disciples. It is truly man’s greatest treasure. To truly read it and discover its meaning and message, is to be enlightened, to see with the eyes of your understanding. It is a treasure waiting for you to discover it. That is why it has been copied over and over by hand and has survived the attacks of godless people. It lives and abides forever (I Peter 1:23).
An Unaltered Book
By the time of the first century, writing materials were most commonly papyri, a less durable material. Yet, it is amazing that so many copies of the New Testament books have survived the attacks and natural degrading processes to give us confidence that we have accurate copies of what was originally written by the inspired apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament prophesied of Jesus and of a coming better covenant, the New Testament (Jeremiah 31:30-31). Jesus verified the accuracy and dependability of the Old Testament including its translation from Hebrew to Greek. But Jesus further promised the eye witnessing apostles that the Spirit would guide them into perfect recall of what they had seen and heard, along with finishing out the testimony with full and complete truth (John 14:26; 15:26,27; 16:13). Paul wrote 13 of the 27 New Testament books, confirming that the Spirit revealed those things to him (Ephesians 3:3-5). Peter wrote two books (I and II Peter) and confirmed that the writings of Paul were “scriptures” (II Peter 3:15-16). As one congregation received a letter from Paul, or Peter, John, Luke, or other inspired men, they would make copies and share them with other congregations (Colossians 4:16). In this way the collection of inspired writings were copied by hand over and over and collected among the churches.
Seeing how that the Dead Sea Scrolls were able to help verify that the Old Testament section of our Bible had not been altered and corrupted over a 1000 year period, it would be equally hard to believe that if we compared the copies of the New Testament books from the 2nd to 15th centuries that we would see vast changes in the storyline and major claims of these 27 books over time. What we find is the opposite. We find remarkable sameness and agreement among the quotes, copies, and translations among the various languages. The original manuscripts are gone, but the copies are enough. It would be like losing the original autograph manuscript of the Constitution of the United States of America. The copies are enough even if we lost the original. By the 7th Century there was no question that the Bible of the Christians and Jews was God’s dependable word. Muhammad was not a literate man, but even he knew not to question the Bible.
The Quran mentions the Torah ("Tawrat"), the Zabur ("Psalms") and the Injil ("Gospel") as being revealed by God to the prophets Moses, David, and Jesus respectively in the same way the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, the final prophet and messenger of God according to Muslims. Now the claim that the Bible was corrupted poses a huge problem for those who claim to believe the Quran is God’s final message to man. If the Bible was corrupted, it had to be corrupted after 650 AD. But, all the manuscript evidence before and after AD 650 shows that the Bible has not changed. Rob Phillips makes the following observation:
“The traditional Muslim response to the Bible, however, is that Jews and Christians have corrupted it, so it cannot be trusted. However, this claim poses problems that begin with the Qur’an itself.
"In Surah 10:94, Allah tells Muhammad, “So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters” (Sahih International).
"In addition, Surah 5:48 reads, “And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book [Qur’an] in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it …” (Sahih International).
Since the Qur’an was not collected in written form until after Muhammad’s death (AD 632), these passages clearly refer to the Old and New Testaments — specifically, the Torah (Law), Zabur (psalms), and Injil (Gospel).”
In other words, Muhammad did not view the Bible as corrupted. If those scriptures could be corrupted then any other word from God could be corrupted (including what came to be the Quran). It shoots the Muslim religion in the foot to have argued that the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians are from God and then to turn around later to argue that the Scriptures got changed. The evidence of seven centuries from the time of Jesus is that the Bible tells the same story it has always told with amazing sameness from the first century to now. You can depend on the Bible being the same word of God.