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Ancient Scriptures: Introduction

The Protestant Bible is divided into sixty-six books, which were originally written in three ancient languages. Most of the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, with parts of Daniel and Ezra written in Aramaic, a sister language to Hebrew. The New Testament was written in an ancient Greek known as Koine Greek. From these languages, the Bible was meticulously copied by scribes for centuries, guarded against errors, and translated into the languages of the modern world. The men who guarded and passed down the Scriptures to future generations often did so at great sacrifice of personal fortune and risk of martyrdom. To appreciate their gift to us, and to fully realize the value of the Bibles we own, we must start by going back over three thousand years in human history, to a mountain called Sinai. There, God was personally meeting with the leader of a nation He had chosen and appointed to be the recipient of His Word…

 

Part I: God Gives His Word to Man

pyramids.jpg (5333 bytes)The year is c. 1446 B.C., and Moses has just led the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The Egyptians were in some respects the greatest civilization up until that time, with great acheivments of architecture, writing, and mathematics. Yet to the Egyptians, all men were not created equal, for they enslaved other peoples. With the crack of the slavemaster's whip, the Israelites had helped build tombs for Egypt's Pharaohs, worshipped by the Egyptians as gods. The Pyramids of Giza still stand today, reminding us of the "greatness" of ancient Egypt, and of the enslavement of the Jews and other peoples whose labor built those pyramids.

Pharaoh Rameses II had great plans for using Jewish slave labor for a monumental building program, but God had other plans for the Jewish people. Not through the hand of an eloquent leader, but by performing through the obedience of a humble man, the Almighty God performed great miracles that confounding the Egyptians and amazed the Israelites (Exodus 7-14). The final miracle of the parting of the Red Sea delivered the nation of Israel from the hands of their taskmasters. Now He had called that same humble leader to the mountain of Sinai to give this nation of newly-freed slaves the first part of His Word for mankind. No longer were they to work in slavery, making stones for the worship of man. God was about to carve His Word on tablets of stone- a beginning of freedom for all people of all time.Moses

From the King James Bible: And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone. And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord…And He said, 'Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord'…And the Lord said unto Moses, 'Write down these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.' And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. (Exodus 34)

Thus God began giving the Bible to man. From the first five books of Moses (the "Pentateuch"), the Bible was written in the Hebrew language for the next 1,000 years, when the last book of the Old Testament was completed in c. 444 B.C. These 39 books are a sacred collection of law, history, prophecy, wisdom and poetry, written by human authors but inspired by the voice of God.

 

How did the books of the Bible come to be?

The word "canon" refers to the collection of writings which together compose Holy Scripture. Canonical writings are recognized as authoritative, and distinct from all other writings. The canon was not decided by a single act of man, but done gradually by God. In the centuries before Christ, men received revelation from God and bore witness of a coming Messiah, and this section of the canon is the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament. Suddenly, in 400 B.C., the last of the Old Testament canon was written, and no writings recognized as canon were written for over four hundred years, until the coming of Christ. These years are often called the "silent years." When the Messiah came, those who had first-hand contact with him- the "apostles"- wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit an account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Together with the apostles' writings during the early years of the Church, this completed God’s message of salvation and abundant, eternal life through His Son. Several hundred years after these books were written, as the church began to recognize they were complete and no more inspired Scriptures were being written, the canon of the New Testament was "closed" in a series Church councils. For centuries the Church, both Protestant and Catholic, has recognized and agreed with the decisions of these early Christians: that the canon is closed and that God’s message to mankind is complete in the Bibles we have today.

Some Jews did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, just as many today still do not accept Him. For them, only the Hebrew Scriptures before the time of Christ are considered as canonical Holy Scripture. Romans 9:31-33 says, "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.   Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."

In the years just before and after Christ, several writings were widely circulated that dealt with the subject of God and referred to the writings of Scripture. These were repeatedly rejected by most Church councils for inclusion in the canon as inspired Holy Scripture, but have been widely acclaimed for their literary and historical value. Some Catholics, however, do regard these as canon, and therefore these writings are including in a separate section of the Catholic Bible, called "Apocrypha."

The Bible started when God began giving His Word to man in the Hebrew language at the time of Moses, in the 15th century B.C.  Exodus 24:4 says, "And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel."   These first five books of the Bible, known as the "Pentateuch," were placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 31:26).  Next, God spoke His Word through the writer Joshua, then through Samuel as he, "Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house." (I Sam. 10:25). As the canon of ancient Hebrews Scriptures grew over the course of a millenium, they had to be carefully copied and passed down from generation to generation for many centuries. God chose a special people for this task…

 

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