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Doctrine of the Word of God

The Bible

1. The different forms of the Word of God

1.1 As a person: Jesus Christ

1Jesus is referred to as “the Word of God” as can be seen in Rev 19:13. This is also found in Jn 1:1, 14 and 1 Jn 1:1. These are the only verses that refer to Christ as the “word” and as a result this usage is not at all common. However, it does indicate that in the Trinity, the Son has a special purpose in communicating God to us!

1.2 As Speech by God

1.2.1 God’s decrees

God’s Word can sometimes be powerful decrees that cause things to happen as in Gen 1:3. A decree is a Word spoken by God that causes something to happen. It includes the original events of creation and the continuing existence of all things (Heb 1:3).

1.2.2 Personal address

God at times has communicated with individuals on earth by speaking directly to them. It started in the beginning at creation when He spoke to Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying,

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;  (17)  but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Gen 2:16-17)

This also occurred at the giving of the Ten Commandments in Ex 20:1-3. God communicated like this at the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:17). In these cases it is clear that the hearers understood these words to be the very words of God, because they were actually hearing God speak. Therefore, they heard words of divine authority and trustworthiness.

1.2.3 Prophetic word

We read frequently in the Bible that God raised prophets through whom He spoke. God spoke about this to Moses:

 'I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (19)  'It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.  (20)  'But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.'  (Dt. 18:18-20)

God spoke similarly to Jeremiah in Jer 1:9, and to several of the prophets He spoke like this. See Ex 4:12; Num 22:38; 1 Sam 15:3, 18, 23; 1 Ki 20:36; 2 Chr 20:20; 25:15-16; Isa 30:12-14.

Those claiming to be speaking for God, but who did not receive their messages from Him were punished (Ezek 13:1-7; Dt 18:2--22).

1.2.4 Scripture

Scripture itself attests to the fact that God’s words were put in written form. Back in Ex 31:18 we find God giving Moses the tablets of stone with the Decalogue written by the finger of God. Moses also did his part in writing Scripture as mentioned in Dt 31:9-13. After Moses Joshua also came into the writers guild in Josh 24:26. God spoke to Isaiah to write what he heard in a book in Isa 30:8. In continues like this through the Bible.

What are the benefits of writing down God’s word?

  1. Accurate preservation
  2. Opportunity for repeated inspection
  3. Accessible to more people

2. Our focus

As the title of our study suggests, the focus of this study is the written form of God’s communication, the Bible! It is readily available to us for study, inspection and correction. It points us directly to Christ.

The other forms of God’s Word are not suitable for a study in theology. We do not hear God’s decree. On the other hand, God’s speech in personal address is very uncommon, even in Scripture! Even though some claim to hear from God in this form and I believe He still speaks, it still remains and ever will remain a highly subjective occurrence. We can hardly be 100% certain that God actually spoke. I believe God ceased to speak to us via prophets, so we cannot study that either.

Therefore, we will focus on the Bible as God’s way of speaking to us primarily, and use it to study.

3. Uniqueness of the Bible

3.1 Continuity

  1. Written over a span of about 1500 years.
  2. Written by more than 40 authors from very different walks of life. From a king to a tax collector.
  3. Written in widely different places. From the wilderness to a palace to a prison.
  4. Written at different times. Times of war, peace, and persecution.
  5. Written in different moods. Joy, sorrow, conviction, etc.
  6. Written on three continents. Asia, Africa, Europe.
  7. Written in three languages. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek.
  8. A wide variety of literary styles. Poetry, song, history, law, etc.
  9. Addresses many controversial subjects, though, through 1500 years and more than 40 authors and different backgrounds, there remains a wonderful harmony in the Bible.
  10. The Bible represents a single unfolding story of God’s dealings with man in salvation.
  11. It only has one leading character right through…Jesus Christ!

3.2 Circulation

  Bible Testaments Portions New Reader Portions Selections New Reader Selections
Africa 2,436,187 541,915 1,325,206 1,494,911 4,024,764 350,092
Americas 9,869,916 12,743,311 7,074,311 6,277,936 315,468,625 25,120,757
Asia-Pacific 6,213,113 5,368,429 9,007,281 8,262,462 151,042,342 9,765,191
Europe/Mid East 2,232,299 1,463,020 1,973,054 495,301 2,197,975 275,358
Total 1998 20,751,515 20,116,627 19,379,852 16,530,610 472,733,706 35,511.398
Chart taken from “The New Evidence that demands a verdict” by Josh McDowell (Thomas Nelson Publ., Nashville, 1999)

This makes the total distribution of the Bible or portions of it more than 585 million. In 1998 alone! This includes Bibles and portions distributed by the United Bible Societies alone!

3.3 Translation

The Bible or portions of it has been translated into more than 2200 languages according to the United Bible Society ( Ted Bergman at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, claims that at the rate that the Bible is currently translated, the Bible should be available to almost all language groups between the years 2007-2022.

3.4 Survival

Compared with other ancient writings, the Bible has more support from manuscript evidence than any ten pieces of classical literature combined. In the copying of manuscripts, utmost care was taken to ensure the accuracy of the copies. Compared to Shakespeare’s thirty seven plays, which were written only about 280 years ago and which has close to a hundred disputed readings materially affecting the meaning of those passages, the New Testament in contrast was written over nineteen centuries ago. With perhaps about twenty exceptions the text of every verse may be said to be settled by general consent of scholars.

The Bible withstood all the years of persecution where emperors attempted to destroy the Scriptures so that Christians could not worship from them, one of the greatest persecutions being under Roman emperor Diocletian in AD 303. The irony of it all is that just twenty five years after this, the emperor Constantine issued  and edict for fifty copies of the Scriptures to be prepared at the state’s expense. Voltaire who died in 1778 predicted the demise of Christianity within one hundred years of his life, yet Voltaire has died and the growth of Christianity and the distribution of the Bible keep flourishing. Fifty years after his death the Geneva Bible Society used his press and house to produce many Bibles.

People from all walks of life have attempted to destroy the Bible: emperors, popes, kings, priests, princes and rulers.

Critics of the Bible’s worth and accuracy have also tried to destroy the Bible philosophically and historically, yet failed. Higher criticism has tried to destroy the Bible from a historical view and from the view of the authorship of the Bible, but failed. For example, the documentary hypothesis in which these people believe that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses but by four other writers designated J, P, E and D. They believed that at the time of Moses there was no writing and if so it was used very sparingly. Since then the laws of Hammurabi was discovered and found that it preceded Moses by at least three centuries. It antedated Moses who was supposed to be a primitive man lacking an alphabet. Even though much of its original base has been shown to be false, the documentary hypothesis is still being taught at certain liberal institutions.

Critics also thought that the Hittites of Abraham’s time never existed, but archaeological research proved that Hittite civilisation existed for about 1200 years.

3.5 Teachings

The accuracy of prophecy bears the greatness of the Bible. Hundreds of prophecies have been fulfilled.

The Bible deals very honestly with its characters and certainly does not paint them as heroes when they are not. Even the so-called heroes are shown to be sinners like us all.

4. The Compilation of the Bible

4.1 Writing materials

4.1.1 Papyrus

The most common of the writing materials available in Bible times was papyrus. It was a highly perishable material. Papyrus was made from a reed grown mostly in Egypt and Syria. Papyrus was commonly used until around the third century AD.

4.1.2 Parchment

This was made from the skin of sheep, goats, antelope and other animals.

4.1.3 Vellum

This was the name given to calf skin. It was often dyed purple. The oldest vellum scrolls date from about 1500 BC. Parchment and vellum were used till the late Middle Ages.

4.2 Scribes and their handiwork

Two styles of writing were used in general, in antiquity.

A cursive writing was in use for non-literary, everyday documents that had to be written rapidly, such as letters, receipts, petitions, deeds, etc. Contractions and abbreviations of frequently used words were common on these documents.

On the other hand, uncials, a more formal style of writing, were used for literary works. It characterises more deliberate and carefully executed letters. (See Picture A2 in Appendix A). It can be compared to our capital letters. The most significant uncial manuscripts are Codex Vaticanus (AD 325-350 – see Picture A14) and Codex Sinaiticus (AD 340 – See Picture A3).

Later, this style of writing began to deteriorate and became thick and clumsy. Then, at about the beginning of the ninth century, a reform in handwriting was initiated. A small script in running hand was created for books. This style is called miniscules. (See Picture A1 in Appendix A). It became popular almost at once. This change of script had a profound effect on the textual tradition of the Greek Bible. Because the text was smaller and quicker to copy than uncials, it could be written on less parchment, placing it in the hands of people with limited means.

Usually no spaces were used between words in sentences, and until around the eighth century punctuation was not in common use. At times the meanings of sentences would be ambiguous. An example of this could be GODISNOWHERE, which could mean “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” However, in the Greek language there are rules in what constitute word endings. Generally, Greek words can only end in a vowel or dipthongs, or in one of three consonants, ν, ρ, and ς. In the Hebrew no vowels were used in their language (see Picture A13). This was changed by the Masoretes between the fifth and tenth centuries AD when they added vowels to the Hebrew written language as a series of dots and lines below the script (see Picture A5). The way Greek was written also later changed to include spaces and punctuation to what we have today (See Picture A4).

During the early ages of Christianity individual Christians wanted their own Biblical manuscripts, and so reproduced it themselves. Due to the rapid growth of the church, this process sped up considerably, and naturally the greater the speed the lower the accuracy.

However, when Christianity received official sanction from the state, it became common for commercial book publishers to produce copies of the New Testament. This they did by using trained scribes who would write as a reader or lector would read aloud from the exemplar of the New Testament. It is easy in such a method to introduce errors by mistake. Inattentive scribes, noises like coughing or the like could alter what the scribes heard. Similar sounding words as in English like “great” and “grate, “there” or “their” could also be difficult for a scribe to differentiate between. In order to minimise errors a specially trained corrector (διορθωτης) would rectify mistakes by annotating manuscripts, which could be recognised by differences in handwriting style or tints of ink.

Stichometric (counting of lines) reckoning also served as a way of ensuring accuracy.

4.3 The Canon

The word canon comes from the root word reed. The Greek word is kanon and it later came to mean standard from its common usage as a measuring rod.

Contrary to what certain churches or denominations teach, the church did not create the canon of Scripture. The church simply recognised which of the books were inspired from their inception. A book was accepted by the people of God because it was the Word of God. A book was not the Word of God because of its acceptance by the people of God.

4.3.1 The New Testament Testing for inclusion in the Canon

Those involved in recognising the books of the Canon did not actively write down what criteria they used for inclusion in the Canon of Scripture, but certain points did become highlighted as they deliberated concerning the inclusion of books. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Did a prophet of God write the book?
  • Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?
  • Did the message tell the truth about God?
  • Does it come with the power of God?
  • Did the people of God accept it? Reasons for New Testament book collection

First, these books were prophetic in nature, meaning the great men of God, like the apostles wrote them, and therefore they must be valuable. Second, the churches needed to know which books were to be read, revered and applied to their lives. Third, there was a great rise of heretics. Marcion, as early as AD 140 compiled his own incomplete canon and began to propagate its use. The church had to respond. Fourth, it was necessary for missions work for complete Bibles to exist, especially if the Bible had to be translated into new languages. Lastly, persecution came and people died for what they believed. Who would die for a book that just was not sacred? However, if one knew that a book was God’s truth, one would surely stand one’s ground for it! Recognition of the Canon

The earliest complete list of books of the New Testament came via Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367). Shortly after Athanasius, Jerome and Augustine defined the same 27 books of the New Testament. Even earlier, Polycarp (AD 115) the disciple of the apostle John, Clement of Alexandria (AD 200, and others referred to the Old Testament and the New Testament books with phrases like “as it is said in the Scriptures.” Justin Martyr used the formula “as it is written” while quoting the gospels. Irenaeus, who became the bishop of Lyons in Gaul around AD 180, who was a disciple of Polycarp, recognised at least 18 of the New Testament books. When the Synod of Hippo (AD 393) listed the 27 books of the New Testament, it did not confer authority on the books of the Canon they did not already have.

There were several New Testament apocryphal books that were rejected as part of the New Testament Canon. Reasons for their rejection can be summed up as follows. First, they only enjoyed a temporary or local recognition. Second, most of them had only a semi-canonical status at most. Third, no major canon or church council ever included them as inspired books into the New Testament Canon. Historical reliability

A bibliographical test can be performed to test the reliability of the New Testament. This can be discovered by the number of manuscripts and their closeness to the original manuscript.

If we count Greek copies alone, the New Testament is preserved in 5686 partial and complete manuscript portions copied by hand from the second century to the fifteenth century. Add to this more than 10000 Latin Vulgate and about 9300 other early versions, and there are close to or even more than 25000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament. Compare this to Homer’s Iliad which is second on the list of most copies with only 643. The earliest complete text of the Iliad dates from the thirteenth century.

Even though we do not have any of the original manuscripts, the abundance of available manuscript copies available makes it possible to reconstruct the original with virtually complete accuracy. What sets the New Testament apart from other writings is that in no case is the interval between composition and earliest extant manuscripts as short as with the New Testament. Important New Testament manuscripts

Some of the factors that help dating a manuscript are:

  • Materials used
  • Letter size and form
  • Punctuation
  • Text divisions
  • Ornamentation
  • Colour of the ink
  • Texture and colour of the parchment

John Rylands’ MS (AD 130) – portion of the gospel of John; John Rylands Library, Manchester.

Bodmer Papyrus II (AD 150-200) – most of John’s gospel, Jude, the epistles of Peter and Luke; Library of World Literature, Geneva. (see Picture A12)

Chester Beatty Papyri (AD 200) – major portions of the New Testament; Chester Beatty Museum, Dublin. (see Picture A11)

Diatessaron (AD 160) – a small portion; a harmony of the four gospels by Tatian.

Codex Vaticanus (AD 325-350) – nearly all of the Bible; Vatican library.

Codex Sinaiticus (AD 350) – almost all of the New Testament and over half of the Old Testament; British Museum. (see Picture A3)

Codex Alexandrinus (AD 400) – almost the entire Bible; British museum.

Codex Ephraemi (AD 400) – all New Testament books except 2 Thessalonians and 2 John; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

Codex Bezae (AD 450+) – gospels and Acts in Greek and Latin; Cambridge Library.

Codex Washingtonensis (AD 450) – four gospels; Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.

Codex Claromontanus (AD 500) – Pauline epistles. Manuscripts supported by Various Versions

The New Testament was translated into many other languages almost right from the beginning. Syriac and Latin versions, or translations, of the New Testament were made as early as around AD 150. These versions are very close to the originals and are a great help in supporting the originals.

Old Syriac Version
Contains 4 gospels from around the fourth century. Syriac is actually the name given to Christian Aramaic.

Syriac Peshitta
It was the standard version of the day and dates from around AD 150-250. There more than 350 MSS from the fifth century extant today.

Palestinian Syriac
This version is dated about AD 400-450.

Polycarp’s Syriac New Testament for Philoxenas, bishop of Mabug.

Harkleian Syriac
AD 616 by Thomas of Harkel.
  • Latin Versions
Old Latin
Testimonies exist from the fourth to thirteenth centuries that an Old Latin version circulated in North Africa as well as in Europe during the third century.

African Old Latin
Around AD 400. According to research it seems to have been copied from a second century MS.

Codex Corbiensis
From about AD 400-500, it contains the four gospels.

Codex Vercellensis
AD 360.

Codex Palatinus
Fifth century AD.

Latin Vulgate
Vulgate means “common or popular.” Jerome, upon the request of the bishop of Rome, Damasus, translated the Bible into Latin around AD 366-384.
  • Coptic Versions (Egyptian) (see Picture A10)

According to F. F. Bruce, it is quite probable that the first Egyptian version was translated around the third or fourth century.

Beginning third century.

Fourth century.

Middle Egyptian
Around the fourth or fifth century.
  • Other Versions
AD 400+.

Gothic (see Picture A9)
Fourth century.

Fifth century.

Sixth century.

Sixth century. Manuscripts supported by Lectionaries

As in the synagogues of New Testament times, the churches adopted the tradition of reading certain passages of the New Testament during their services. In time a regular system of readings from the gospels especially was developed. The custom arose to organise these readings into regular fixed readings on certain days throughout the year. The lector, or reader, was assisted by different symbols or words in the MS text so that he would know what to read when (see Picture A7).

In general Lectionaries were conservative in that they used older texts. For textual criticism this makes them very valuable. They are of secondary value for these reasons:

  • They contain all of the New Testament except Revelation and Acts.
  • Lectionaries assume a more significant role in establishing the true text, as a result of recent scholarship. Lectionary types are mostly Byzantine in nature, but certain groups also make use of Alexandrian and Ceasarean readings.
  • They have also influenced the understanding of specific passages as in Jn 7:53-8:11 and Mk 16:9-20. Manuscripts supported by the early Church Fathers

Even though quotations of the New Testament by the early Church Fathers are not primary witnesses, they do serve secondary roles. First, they do give great support for the twenty-seven books of the New Testament canon. Second, their quotations are numerous and very widespread. As a result, if no New Testament MSS were extant, the New Testament could be reproduced from their quotations alone. If the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius alone were considered for the number of quotations from the New Testament, then between them they quoted the gospels 19368 times; Acts 1352 times; the Pauline Epistles 14035 times; the general epistles 870 times; Revelation 664 times. This for a total of 36289 quotations of the New Testament between these writers alone.

If all New Testament MSS were destroyed by the end of the third century and all we had were the writings of the early Church Fathers of those first centuries, Sir David Dalrymple, after extensive research of these Fathers, concluded that the whole New Testament would be able to be recompiled except for eleven verses. Non-Christian confirmation of New Testament History

Many critics of the Bible and especially the New Testament vilify the New Testament because the “friends” of Jesus wrote it. They claim that there are no references to Jesus or the New Testament outside of the New Testament. This is so obviously false!

Tacitus, who was a first-century Roman historian writes about those called Christians by the populace, and of “Christus,” from whom the Christians had their origin, suffered and paid the supreme penalty while Tiberius was reigning, and that Pontius Pilate was the one who put him to death.

Seutonius, the chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138), confirms the report of Acts 18:2 that Claudius commanded all Jews to evacuate Rome in AD 49.

On the other hand, one of the most highly recognised Jewish historians, Josephus (AD 37-100), was a Pharisee of the priestly line. He made many statements in his many writings that verify either in general terms or specifically the historical nature of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. He gave testimony as to the nature of the Old Testament canon, which corresponds to the Protestant view of the canon. He also wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews about Jesus as the brother of James who was martyred. This passage was written AD 93 and confirms that Jesus was a real person in the first century who was seen by His followers as the Messiah. He even wrote about John the Baptist and that Herod killed the Baptist.

There are many others who were non-Christian, that wrote about Jesus: Thallus (AD 52); Pliny the Younger (AD 112); Emperor Trajan in answer to Pliny; Talmud (AD 70-200); Lucian (2nd century); Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st – early 3rd century); the Gnostic Gospel of Truth (2nd century). Archaeological evidence

Archaeology has verified and vindicated the historical accounts of the New Testament as well as that of the Old Testament.

In the New Testament it has verified the accounts and even individual words of Luke in his gospel and the book of Acts. It has shown Luke’s writings to be very accurate. Further verification was found for the Pavement, where Jesus was tried; the pool of Bethesda; the gospel of John’s similarity with other writings of the time; crucifixion as a method of death by the discovery of Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol who was crucified similarly to Jesus; the existence of Pontius Pilate on the slab at Ceasarea Maritima and many more.

4.3.2 The Old Testament Recognition of the Canon

The Old Testament canon most likely was finalised back in the fourth century BC and no later than 150 BC. The last book to be written and recognised as canonical were Malachi (450-430 BC) and Chronicles (no later than 400 BC). These books appear with the rest of the Old Testament books in the Septuagint (see Picture A6), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures around 250-150 BC. Recognition by the New Testament

Jesus Christ also attested to the Old Testament canon by His many and various quotes from the Old Testament. The same can be said of the rest of the New Testament. Recognition by Others

Many extra-Biblical writers also attested to the accepted books of the Old Testament canon. Among these are Philo (AD 40), Josephus (end of first century AD), the Talmud and the Mishnah. Rejection of Apocrypha

There also existed an apocrypha for the Old Testament. However, unlike the Roman Church, Protestants reject them as canonical. There are several reasons for this.

  • They abound in historical and geographical errors.
  • They teach false doctrines and practices that are at odds with Scripture.
  • Their literary types and the display of artificiality of subject matter, and also styling is out of step with Scripture.
  • They lack the prophetic power, poetic and religious feeling, and other elements  that are distinctive elements of genuine Scripture. Reliability of Old Testament MSS Textual transmission

Although we do not have the original autographs of the Old Testament, we can accurately conclude that what we have in terms of the text of the Old Testament, is as close as we can ever get to the original without the original.

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the oldest dated Old Testament MSS were from AD 980. When the DSS were discovered, they were dated to be 2nd century BC or older. Even with these thousand years of difference, it was found they were word for word identical in more than 95% of the text. The remaining 5% of the text were obvious slips and variations of spelling that do not alter the message of revelation in the least.

Even the names of enemy kings in the Old Testament times are spelled correctly as they appear in archaeological discoveries of inscriptions of these kings’ names. MS quantity

The Old Testament cannot boast of the same quantity of MSS as the New Testament. Yet, the quantity available remains remarkable. The reason for the comparatively few MSS is that when a scribe copied a text, he would destroy the old MS.

It does not seem that Old Testament MSS are catalogued as well as New Testament MSS, but I could be wrong. Therefore I could be wrong about the number of MSS and portions and fragments that total 15069. The most important MSS and portions are as follows:

  • Cairo Codex (AD 895). Contains only former and latter prophets.
  • Codex of the Prophets of Leningrad (AD 916). Contains Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets.
  • Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus (AD 1008). Complete MS.
  • Aleppo Codex (AD 900+).
  • British Museum Codex (AD 950). Part of Genesis to Deuteronomy.
  • Reuchlin Codex of the Prophets (AD 1105). Text History

A succession of scholars was in charge of the preservation of the text, ensuring the elimination of errors.

  • Sopherim (“scribes”) – Custodians of the text between 5th and 3rd centuries BC.
  • Zugoth (“pairs”) – These were pairs of textual scholars between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC
  • Tannaim (“teachers” / “repeaters”) – Remained active until AD 200. They were also involved with other Jewish works: Midrash (“textual interpretation”); Tosefta (“addition”); Talmud (“instruction”), divided into Mishnah (“repetitions”) and Gemara (“the matter to be learnt”). The Talmud was compiled over the period AD 100 to AD 500.
  • Talmudists (AD 100 – 500).
  • Masoretes (“transmitters”) – Active from AD500-950.

These groups are normally divided in periods:

  • Period of the Sopherim (400 BC – AD 200).
  • Talmudic period (AD 100-500).
  • Masoretic period (AD 500-950).

Due to the fact that Jewish scribes and priests regarded older copies as unfit for use, and their destruction in most of these cases, the Masoretic text is accepted as the correctly preserved text. Before the Masoretic text, the Hebrew Bible was written without any need for vowels.

However, with the destruction of the temple in AD 70, along with the dispersion of the Jews, the language of the Jews became almost in disuse, as they knew it before. This gave rise to the need to standardise the consonantal text (see Picture A13) and also the use of punctuation and vowels (see Picture A5). The addition of punctuation and vowels for the Hebrew script by the Masoretes helped in preserving the vocalisation and pronunciation of reading Hebrew. The most famous Masoretes were the ben Asher family (Moses ben Asher and his son Aaron), and Moses ben Naphtali, in the late 9th and 10th centuries. The standard Hebrew text today is the ben Asher text and is represented by Codex Leningradensis B19 A (L) and Codex Aleppo. Non-Hebrew confirmation of Old Testament MSS

Evidence for the accuracy of the Old Testament text can be found in translations or versions of the Old Testament as far back as the 5th century BC in the Samaritan Pentateuchal tradition. The Septuagint (LXX), preserves such a tradition from the 3rd century.

The LXX, especially, is a major confirmation of the Old Testament’s textual integrity.

The Hexapla (“sixfold”) was done by Origen in the 2nd century. It and other writings by Josephus, Philo and more, bear witness to a text from AD 40-100, that is quite similar to the Masoretic text.

There are also other writing that bear witness to the Old Testament text:

-    Aramaic Targums (AD 500) – Paraphrases of the Old Testament in Aramaic.

-    The Gemara (AD 200/500) – An expanded commentary of the Mishnah written in Aramaic.

-    Midrash (100 BC – AD 300) – Doctrinal studies of the Old Testament Hebrew text. Midrash quotations are substantially Masoretic.

Numerous archaeological discoveries have substantiated the claims of the Old Testament in historical events such as Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Saul and David and Solomon, etc. Biblical names, towns, practices and words have been verified by archaeology.

5. The Perfections of Scripture

5.1 The Divine Authority of Scripture

5.1.1 Testimony from Scripture

The Bible claims for itself that all the words in Scripture are God’s words. This does not mean that God spoke every word contained in the Bible. It simply means that every word in the Bible is as God reported it to us. This can be seen in the many times the Bible quotes God by saying: “Thus says the Lord….”

When prophets in the Old Testament spoke for God, every word he spoke had to have been from God, else he would be declared a false prophet (Dt 18:18-20). “Thus says the Lord” was an indication that the prophet claimed to be a messenger from God.

The Bible speaks at times as though God speaks through the prophet.

All Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through His servant Ahijah the prophet.  (1 Kings 14:18)

Therefore they returned and told him. And he said, "This is the word of the LORD, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 'In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; (2 Kings 9:36)

But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the LORD which He spoke through Jeremiah the prophet. (Jeremiah 37:2)

We find a number of passages in the New Testament that speak of the Old Testament as the words of God.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  (2 Tim. 3:16)

“Scripture” (γραφη), must mean the Old Testament Scriptures. γραφη means Old Testament in every one of its 51 uses in the New Testament. Paul also just spoke of the Old Testament in verse 15.

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation,  (21)  for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

In this case Peter must also mean at least the Old Testament when he writes of the “prophecy of Scripture.” Peter says directly that “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Other New Testament passages speak in a similar vein of separate passages from the Old Testament.

Jesus attributes the words of the author in Genesis 2:24 as those of God.

And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,  (5)  and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'?  (Matthew 19:4-5)

How can 2 Tim 3:16 apply to the New Testament if Paul meant the Old Testament? Some New Testament writings are called “Scripture.”

as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.  (2 Peter 3:16)

Peter here shows that he is very aware of the writings of Paul. Apart from just being aware of them, Peter acknowledges that Paul writings are hard to understand, yet they are to be seen in the same category as the “other Scriptures!” Early in the history of the church Paul’s writings are then classified with the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

Paul saw the words of Jesus as Scripture.

For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."  (1 Tim. 5:18)

Jesus spoke these words in Lk 10:7.

Other passages in the New Testament have similar claims (1 Cor 14:37).

5.1.2 Being convinced of the claims of Scripture

Being convinced that the Bible is God’s words can only come when the Holy Spirit via the words of Scripture to our hearts, giving us an inner conviction of the truthfulness of Scripture being God’s word.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.  (1 Cor. 2:14)

It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that a person can receive spiritual truths. Without His help, no person can receive or accept that the Bible is the word of God. This conviction does not come to us apart from or in addition to the words of Scripture. As Scripture is read, that conviction will grow with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

5.1.3 The Self-Attesting Nature of Scripture

We cannot get around it, the Bible is self-attesting. The Bible cannot be proved to be God’s words by an appeal to a higher authority. As soon as a higher authority is needed to prove that the Bible is God’s words, then the Bible is no longer our highest authority. That which we appeal to for proof of the Bible as God’s words will then become the highest authority.

Naturally, many will claim this argument to be a circular argument. That is, we believe Scripture to be God’s words because it claims to be, and we believe the claims of Scripture because it is the Word of God. In a sense it is a circular argument. Yet, to prove something, a higher authority is needed, and we do not have a higher authority than God’s Word.

Whenever an ultimate standard of truth is sought, circular reasoning will be the end result. What can be used to authenticate ultimate truth?

How then? The truthfulness of the Bible, as we have already seen above, will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books filled with errors.

5.1.4 Scripture’s Truthfulness

We have already learnt that the Bible is accurate in its report of historical data. Based on the character of God, we know that He cannot lie (Tit 1:2).

From this we deduce that all the words of Scripture are completely true and without error.

The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.  (Psalm 12:6)

Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. (Proverbs 30:5)

Every word of God proves true. Not just some!

When it comes to truth, it is on God’s Word that we stand, because God’s “word is truth” (Jn 17:17).

This verse is interesting because Jesus does not use the adjectives alethinos or  alethes (‘true’), which we might have expected, to say, ‘Your word is true.’ Rather, he uses a noun, aletheia (‘truth’), to say that God’s Word is not simply ‘true,’ but it is truth itself. The different is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being ‘true’ in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the standard of truth… Thus we are to think of the Bible as the ultimate standard of truth, the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured.2

5.2 The Inerrancy of Scripture

It has already been argued that God cannot lie or speak falsely (2 Sam 7:28; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18; Num 23:19). As such the words of Scripture claim to be completely without error in any part (Ps 12:6; 119:96; Prov 30:5; Mt 24:35). Biblical inerrancy, then, means that in the original MSS Scripture does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Simply said, the Bible speaks the truth concerning everything it talks about.

Is the Bible a scientific book? No! Yet, it speaks accurately on every scientific matter that it considers. However, many times it speaks to us in the form of everyday language. Instead of saying the earth rotates around the sun, it tells us in everyday language that the sun rises. In a time when many people believed that the earth was flat, and that the heavens were above the earth, it was the Bible that spoke of the earth that was round, with the heavens all around us.

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)

When the Bible speaks concerning numbers, it also employs everyday speech. How? When we speak of numbers, especially large numbers, we mostly speak in rounded numbers. Whether it is amounts or distance. When a large crowd is gathered we rarely say that there are 11883 people present. We will most likely say that 12000 are present. We are simply speaking here of degrees of precision. If accurate statistics are necessary, then we will have to count every individual. However, when we speak in everyday life our level of precision does not require us to be that accurate. When it comes to measurements such as distance, we will speak of travelling 10km to work, even though work is 10.3km from home.

In a similar way Biblical statements can be equally imprecise, yet be totally true. Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with precision.

Is the Bible only authoritative for faith and practice? Meaning, the purpose of Scripture is to teach us concerning faith and practice only. This position would therefore allow for the possibility of false statements in, for example, scientific and historical facts. We have to object to this type of thinking, since the Bible itself affirms that all Scripture is profitable for us, and that all of it is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). We have also seen already that the Bible itself claims purity, perfection and truthfulness for itself. We have also seen that history and archaeology have verified many factual details in the Bible. Many of which were thought of as pure fable, such as the existence of the Hittites.

Even if someone claims that we do not have the original MSS, therefore, we cannot claim inerrancy for the Bible. However, research in the field of Biblical MSS and variants of those MSS, has brought us extremely close to the content of the original MSS. When we speak of the inerrancy of the original MSS, we can also speak of a 99% accuracy of our current MSS. What about that 1%? MS experts know where the uncertain readings are.

What problems can we expect if we deny the inerrancy of the Bible?

  • Moral problem – Do we imitate God on one side and then also lie in small matters on the other hand? If the Bible is not inerrant, especially after it claims to be God-breathed, it implies that God intentionally lied to us! So, if God can intentionally lie to us, we may also intentionally lie.
  • Trust problem – If the Bible is not inerrant, how can we trust that what we are reading currently is the truth? If God has spoken falsely in one matter, how can we be sure that the current matter in our reading is not false? This will obviously lead to a decline in trust and obedience!
  • Authority problem – If we claim that the Bible is errant, we set our own minds as a higher standard of truth than Scripture. Do we indeed know more certainly and accurately than the Bible does? Archaeology has already shown the folly in this position.
  • Doctrinal problem – If we believe that the Bible have errors in one part of it, how can we be sure that in those parts where doctrine is discussed, it does not have errors too? When we deny the inerrancy of Scripture we deny the doctrine of the nature of Scripture proposed by Scripture itself. If we have denied this doctrine, then surely every other doctrine in Scripture is in jeopardy too!

5.3 The Clarity of Scripture

Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible correctly? Admittedly, there are portions in the Bible that are hard to understand. Even Peter acknowledged this fact.

and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,  (16)  as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

However, it is a mistake to think that most of Scripture is difficult to understand! The Bible speaks of its own clarity, especially when it commands us to teach it to our children.

"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  (7)  "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:6-7)

What does this tell us? Not just the scholars, but all Israel’s people were expected to understand Scripture in order to “teach them diligently to” their children. Scripture can even make the simple wise and give them understanding (Ps 19:7; 119:130).

Who are most of the epistles written to? The scholars? No, to whole congregations!

Scripture is very clear that in order to understand it correctly, one does not need intellectual ability as much as moral and spiritual qualities. I do not mean that we must be mystics to understand Scripture. It simply means that while one is unregenerate, it will be impossible to understand or accept the spiritual qualities of Scripture. One who is dead in sin cannot and will not understand salvation or its need. We can look at the following passages that show us these qualities: 1 Cor 2:14; 1:18-3:4; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4, 6; Heb 5:14; Js 1:5-6; 2 Pet 3:5; Mk 4:1-12; Jn 7:17; 8:43).

A proper understanding of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) will help Christians grow in the skills of proper interpretation. This will not necessarily ensure that we always understand what we read or study in the Bible, but it will clear up many of the passages we struggle with. Not only Hebrew and Greek scholars can understand the Bible. In the time of Jesus and the New Testament, many of the Christians had no knowledge of Hebrew for the understanding of Scripture, and had to rely on the Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament. The New Testament writers in many cases did not quote the Hebrew Old Testament in their writings, but rather quoted from the LXX.

What is the role of scholars then?

  • They can teach Scripture clearly, communicating its content to others and thus fulfilling the office of “teacher” mentioned in the New Testament (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11).3
  • They can explore new areas of understanding the teachings of Scripture.4 This will bring new application of the Scriptures.
  • They can defend the teachings of the Bible against attacks by other scholars or those with specialized technical training.5
  • They can supplement the study of Scripture for the benefit of the church.6 They can always use their rich training to supplement teachings with church history, Greek and Hebrew.

5.4 The Necessity of Scripture

How can we know the gospel, growing spiritually or know God’s will without the Scriptures? We can try to claim some mystic interventions from God, but the fact remains that such experiences are purely subjective, and it has been shown that in such cases people get all kinds of varied “information” that may contradict others with similar experiences. There is only one objective authority for our faith and practice. That is the Bible!

Why is the Bible necessary?

5.4.1 In order to know the gospel

Without the Bible we will not know the gospel. That is probably the main purpose of the Bible. It is a book on God’s work in history to ensure the salvation of those who believe.

for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."  (14)  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?  (15)  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"  (16)  However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?"  (17)  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)

How is one to be saved? This is not an article on salvation, so do not miss the point here. Paul basically shows five steps here up to the time that someone gets to be saved. I will start with the last point and then go back to point one.

  1. Call on the name of the Lord to be saved (v13)
  2. Preacher is sent (v15)
  3. Preacher preaches the gospel (v14)
  4. ner hears (v14)
  5. Sinner believes (v14)

In order for someone to call on the name of the Lord, the first four steps need to be covered. Verse 17 tells us that saving “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Where do we find the word of Christ, except in the Bible?

5.4.2 In order to grow spiritually

But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" (Matthew 4:4)

When Jesus was being tempted by the devil, He made it clear that our spiritual nourishment is as a result of the word of God. It is not the only spiritual nourishment for us. There is prayer, worship, ministry and many more. Yet, Jesus highlighted the word of God.

"For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess." (Deut. 32:47)

Here Moses tells the people how important the word of God is to them. Surely, its importance cannot be minimised in the New Testament era?

5.4.3 In order to know God’s will

Without the Bible, we will never have any degree of certainty concerning God’s will in any area. In a world of sin, where our “fallenness” is not immediately removed, we will experience sin’s distortion of good and evil, and also sin’s influence to cause faulty reasoning processes.

However, the Bible has the clear and definite statements of God’s will.

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29)

Even though not everything has been revealed to us through the Scriptures, enough has been revealed for us to know God’s will.

5.5 The Sufficiency of Scripture

Scripture contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him and for obeying Him.

Paul writes in 2 Tim. 3:15 that Scripture is “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Apart from Scripture containing all we need for salvation, it also totally equips us for Christian life.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  (17)  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Scripture has been given by God to train us “for every good work.” The Bible is all-encompassing for the Christian’s life.

Appendix A: Manuscripts

Figure A 1: Greek Miniscule Script

Figure A 2: Greek Uncial Script

Codex Sinaiticus
Figure A 3: Codex Sinaiticus

Greek New Testament
Figure A 4: Greek New Testament
Modern print of the Greek New Testament as found in The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition, United Bible Societies, 1994. (John 3:2-14). Greek critical apparatus included.

Hebrew Old Testament
Figure A 5: Hebrew Old Testament
Modern print of the Hebrew Old Testament as found in BIBLIA HEBRAICA Stuttgartensia, Editio secunda emendata, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984. (Genesis 1:1-16). Hebrew critical apparatus included.

Figure A 6: Septuagint
Modern print of the Septuagint as found in SEPTUAGINTA Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes Volumen I, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1982. (2 Kings 13:5-17). Greek critical apparatus included.

Figure A 7: Lectionary
Codex Basiliensis (E, 8th century). With titlos, lectionary equipment.

Curetonian Syriac
Figure A 8: Curetonian Syriac

Figure A 9: Gothic

Figure A 10: Coptic
A papyrus with John’s Gospel written in Coptic from the fourth century.

Chester Beatty Papyrus II
Figure A 11: Chester Beatty Papyrus II

Bodmer Papyrus XIV
Figure A 12: Bodmer Papyrus XIV

Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer codex from 1514.
Figure A 13: Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer codex from 1514.
An example of what Hebrew looked like before vowels.

Codex Vaticanus
Figure A 14: Codex Vaticanus

Appendix B: Index of Pictures


End Notes

[1] I have made extensive use of three books I found to be very important for the information they provide:
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994.
Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1999.
Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1992.
I am greatly indebted to these gentlemen, for their hard work and their willingness to put their works at the disposal of someone like me!
[2] Grudem, p83.
[3] Grudem, p110.
[4] Grudem, p110.
[5] Grudem, p110.
[6] Grudem, p111.
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