Tag Archives: bible history

Qumran

This site in a deserted area about eight miles South of Jericho became settled about 130 B.C. by a religious group that had broken away from contemporary Judaism. Their writings, the Dead Sea scrolls, have proven extremely important for a study of the intertestamental and early Christian periods.

In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd was searching for a lost animal on the steep slopes of the Wadi Qumran at the North West end of the Dead Sea when he encountered a cave containing several jars filled with ancient rolls of leather, along with other manuscript fragments. Attempts were made to sell the scrolls to an antique dealer in Bethlehem, and at some stage the scrolls became separated into two groups, to be reunited only after several years had passed. Meanwhile Jewish and American scholars had discovered that the manuscripts, the celebrated Dead Sea scrolls, were at least 1000 years older than the earliest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.

The scrolls formed the library of the religious community living at Qumran. Extensive searching in eleven caves and other places near the site has recovered about 500 documents, most of them fragmentary. Approximately 100 of the scrolls are books of the Old Testament in Hebrew, including one copy of Isaiah, which is the oldest manuscript of a complete book of the Old Testament and can be dated c.100 B.C. The biblical scrolls have demonstrated the accuracy of transmission of previously known Hebrew texts.

Other scrolls help give us a picture of life at the Qumran community. These include a community rule, a hymn collection, biblical commentaries, and other writings. A “temple scroll,” acquired by the Israelis in 1967, supports the strict teachings of the more conservative elements of Pharisaism. A commentary on Habakkuk illumines the objectives of the Qumran community. The group may have arisen about 200 B.C. as a protest against contemporary Judaism, with its members settling in the Judean wilderness to study Scripture under a Righteous Teacher. The community thought of itself as the faithful Israelite remnant destined to prepare for the day of the Lord, and the members looked for a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:18), a Davidic Messiah, and an Aaronic priest. The Messiah would defeat the remnant’s enemies and the priest would govern the state.

The Qumran settlement was first excavated in 1953. Archaeologists have uncovered the community’s living quarters, cisterns for ritual baptisms, an aqueduct system, the room where the scrolls were actually written, and a cemetery.

How the King James Bible was Translated

The colorful sixteenth century came to an end with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.1 England was now a power in Europe; the Spanish Armada had been defeated; Drake had sailed around the world and Raleigh had tried to establish colonies in America; the English Church was now definitely separated from the Church of Rome; England and Scotland were united under one crown; English literature was bursting into full flower with Shakespeare, Bacon, Spenser and–The King James Bible.

One of the first tasks which King James I faced was the reconciliation of various religious parties; one of their more serious differences of opinion was over the Bible versions. The Bishops’ Bible and the Great Bible were in the churches, but the people were buying the editions of the Geneva Bible that poured from the presses of England and the Netherlands. No one knew just which faction James would uphold. To investigate these and other difficulties he called a conference at Hampton Court in January 1604, which was to issue in the preparation of the version now bearing his name. At the conference the translation of the Scripture passages in the Book of Common Prayer was criticized. Dr. John Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and spokesman for the Puritan group, proposed a new translation that would have had the approval of the whole Church. The king at once fell in with the idea and proposed “this bee done by the best learned in both Vniuersities, after them to bee reuiewed by the Bishops, and the chiefe learned of the Church; from them to bee presented to the Priuie-Councell; and lastly to bee ratified by his Royall authoritie, and so this whole Church to be bound vnto it, and none other.”

During the summer a list of fifty-four learned men was approved, and the king requested that livings be secured to finance them while at work, a further circular coming from Bancroft, representing the then-vacant see of Canterbury. It appears that these requests had meager results; the king contributed nothing and the revisers seem to have received only their entertainment while at the colleges. One of the most valuable Hebrew scholars, Mr. Lively, died before the work was actually begun, and there were other delays.

The group of scholars secured was notably competent, but they were also to be guided by a definite set of rules. The Bishops’ Bible was to be the basis. Proper names were to be preserved as nearly as possible in the original; old ecclesiastical words such as “church” were to be retained; in cases of words of “divers significations,” that most commonly used by the “Ancient Fathers” was to be kept.

No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the Explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be express’d in the Text.

Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter, or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.

As any one Company hath dispatched any one book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be consider’d of seriously and judiciously, for his Majesty is very careful in this Point.

If any Company, upon review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the General Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.

When any Place of special obscurity is doubted of Letters to be directed, by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for Judgement of such a Place.

The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.

These Translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops’ Bible: Tindoll’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.

There was to be only a minimum number of marginal references; all learned clergy were to be instructed by the bishops to send in suggestions, and any “ancient and grave Divines” in either University, not engaged on the translation, were to be assigned overseers of the translation, particularly for obscure words from Hebrew and Greek.

Dr. Anthony Walker, the biographer of Dr. John Bois, tells how Bois worked at St. John’s College all week, returning on Saturday to his parish to preach on Sunday; and when he had done his own section he did another’s, “but I forbear to name both the person and the house.” Dr. Walker infers that some university men did not take with particularly good grace the appointment of this country preacher to so scholarly a task. After four years three copies of the whole Bible were sent from Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster to London, and two out of each company were chosen to review the whole and prepare one copy for the press. Dr. Bois was sent with Mr. Downes, and daily they met with two others each, from Oxford and Westminster, in Stationers’ Hall for three-quarters of a year. The Company of Stationers paid them each three shillings a week. Bois was, according to Dr. Walker, the only one to take notes. These notes, which provide an intimate account of how the translators proceeded in their work, remained undiscovered since 1688 until 1964 when Professor Ward Allen successfully traced a hand-written copy of them to the Corpus Christi College Library at Oxford University among the papers of William Fulman, a seventeenth-century antiquarian and collector. The final Committee consisted of twelve from Westminster, Cambridge and Oxford, and the actual translation occupied about two years and nine months–nine months more being spent in the final preparation for the press. The printer, Robert Barker, later stated that he had paid 3,500 pounds toward this revision. The work was finally overseen by Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester, and Miles Smith, afterwards Dean of Gloucester.

Formation of the New Testament

Since Christianity arose before the third section of the Old Testament canon (the Writings) was fixed in the first and second centuries A.D., Christian literature was free to circulate and gain acceptance by Jews as well as Gentiles. Christians believed that the Holy Spirit had been given to the church and that prophecy had returned to Israel (Acts 21:9; I Cor. 12:28; Rev. 22:6,9). All New Testament writings lay claim to authority, either implicitly or explicitly.

In regard to the formation of the canon of the New Testament, recent canonical study has emphasized the process that lay behind the formal listing of authoritative books in the fourth century: “the process of the formation of authoritative religious writings long preceded the particular designation of the collection as canon in the fourth century” (B.S. Childs).

From the time of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection the memory of him was repeated, collected, and formulated in such a way (orally and in writing) that it became scripture through which the living Lord spoke to the community of faith. As these formulations were repeated, heard, and sung in worship and instruction, the community’s self-understanding and activities were shaped and subsequent formulations were influenced. The process in the Christian church also had its stages of fixation.

Stages in the Formation of the New Testament Canon

1. The Collection of the Letters of Paul

Paul’s letters were recognized by many of their first readers as divinely inspired. This is evident from the fact that these letters were preserved and that the churches addressed continued for the most part in the directions Paul pointed out.

Who first brought together Paul’s letters into a collection is not known. One supposition holds that the author of Ephesians–a disciple of Paul, possibly the one-time runaway slave Onesimus–collected his master’s letters about A.D. 90 and wrote Ephesians under his master’s name as an introduction to the collection. This hypothesis cannot be verified.

Near the end of the first century Clement of Rome referred to I Corinthians as “written with true inspiration.” He appealed to the authority of Paul along with that of the Old Testament. Early in the second century Ignatius wrote to the church at Ephesus that Paul “in every letter makes mention of you in Christ Jesus”–thus indicating Ignatius’ knowledge of a collection of Paul’s letters.

The author of II Peter (first half of second century) knew the collected letters of Paul and referred to them as on a level with “the other scriptures” (3:16), that is, probably the Old Testament and possibly some Christian writings which had gained wide acceptance in the church. The heretic Marcion published his own edition of Paul’s letters about A.D. 140. This shows that the collected letters of Paul were well known in the church of Marcion’s day.

2. The Emergence of Four Gospels

The church regarded both the words of the historical Jesus and those of the resurrected Christ as inspired and authoritative. (For examples of words of the resurrected Christ, see Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-8.)

The author of Luke-Acts tells us that many accounts of Christian beginnings existed when he wrote. These were based on the reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-2). Only four accounts were included in the church’s canon. Why were these four preserved?

The answer may be that each of the four became recognized as authoritative in a different important early center of the church. If this is so, these four Gospels were first circulated locally before they were circulated throughout the church.

The four Gospels were slow in gaining general acceptance. By and large the early church preferred oral reports about Jesus and the apostles. Papias (second quarter of the second century) said that “things out of books were less useful to me than what could be learned from a living and abiding voice”–meaning, as the context shows, from some living person who had had contact with disciples of the original apostles.

Though early church writers (such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius) sometimes cited material like that in our Gospels, the first clear reference to any of our four Gospels appears in the writings of Papias. He mentions Mark’s Gospel and refers to a collection of “oracles” (sayings of Jesus) in “the Hebrew language” (that is, in Aramaic) by Matthew. This collection of sayings of Jesus is probably not our Gospel of Matthew, but rather perhaps a source used extensively by Matthew, possibly “Q”.

Justin Martyr (died about 165) referred to our Gospels as “memoirs” of the apostles and of those who followed the apostles. He believed the deeds and words of Jesus were authoritatively reported in them. He indicated that on Sundays in its liturgy the church of his time read from these apostolic memoirs, as well as from the Old Testament prophets. Here it is no longer the oral tradition about Jesus but the written records of him that are the center of attention and authority.

A harmony of the Gospels, known as the Diatessaron, prepared by the Syrian Tatian (around 170), appears to have used only our four Gospels. This indicates that these four Gospels had come to a place of pre-eminence by that time. In about 180 Irenaeus offered an elaborate argument for the validity of four Gospels: since there are four winds and four directions, so there must of necessity be four Gospels. But to him we largely owe the preservation of our four Gospels. He insisted on the retention of these, since they had long been in use in the churches in its various parts; and he gloried in their manifold witness to Jesus, as against others’ attempt to reduce the Gospels to one harmonized version or eliminate some of them, as Marcion (about 140 A.D.) had done.

Many other Gospels appeared in the church during the second and following centuries, but they did not gain universal acceptance. They consist of:

Gospels of Our Canonical Type

Their authors took traditional material about Jesus, like that in our four Gospels, and used it to advance untraditional or “heretical” theology. (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840, Papyrus Edgerton 2, the Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of the Egyptians are of this sort.)

Gospels of a Gnostic Type

These present Jesus as the revealer of secret knowledge, given to the disciples in dialogues and visions. These Gospels also stemmed from groups the church regarded as heretical. (Representative of this type are: the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocryphon of John, the Sopia Jesu Christi [The Wisdom of Jesus Christ], and the Dialogue of the Redeemer.)

Gospels Which Supplement and Embellish the Canonical Gospels

Here the desire was to satisfy curiosity by filling in gaps in the church’s knowledge of Jesus. This was done from pious fancy and from legends from foreign sources. (Belonging to this type are: the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Story of Thomas, and the Gospel of Nicodemus [Acts of Pilate and Christ’s Descent into Hell].)

It is evident that our four Gospels made their way to the fore early, that by about 140-200 they had established themselves widely in church favor and use, and that they maintained their favored position until the New Testament canon was closed.

3. The Selection of the Rest of the New Testament

In the period around 140-200 most of the remaining books of the new Testament rose to a place of wide acceptance and authority. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria (all around the end of the second century) agreed on the authority of the following: the four Gospels, thirteen epistles of Paul, the Acts of Apostles, I Peter, I John, and the Revelation to John. An agreement on Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and Jude had not yet been reached, and the authority of the Revelation to John was still contested in some quarters (particularly in the Eastern part of the church).

Some books of high quality were popular at this time but were not finally accepted into the New Testament canon: I Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, and the Apocalypse of Peter, for example.

4. The Fixing of the New Testament Canon

Marcion seems to have made the first closed collection of Christian writings. He was a Gnostic who rejected the Old Testament and everything “Jewish” and put in place of the Old Testament “the Gospel” (an abridged edition of the Gospel of Luke) and “the Apostle” (ten edited letters of Paul). How much influence this “heretic” had in causing the church finally to draw up an approved list of books is not known.

It was not until Eusebius, around 325, that a careful attempt was made to distinguish approved from unapproved books. He made note of acknowledged, disputed, and rejected books. Among the disputed he named James, II Peter, Jude, II and III John, and the Revelation to John.

In his Easter letter of A.D. 367 Athanasius of Alexandria listed as canonical the books now contained in our New Testament. Church councils at Rome (382), at Hippo (393), at Carthage (397), and again at Carthage (419) fixed the list at those now present in our New Testament.

In some parts of the church, controversy over the inclusion of the Revelation to John and some of the General Epistles continued until the beginning of the sixth century.

Standards by Which Christian Books Were Judged

In general, three standards operated through the centuries in the church’s selection of its authoritative–and, finally, canonical– literature: the extent of the acceptance and use in the church of a particular writing; the fidelity of its contents to the church’s traditional teaching; and the defensibility of its claim to apostolic origin (either written or authorized by an apostle).

The Christian church from the first accepted without question the sacred volume of Judaism as its scriptures. It was enough that Christ had stamped it with his divine approval. His view of the Old Testament as the living voice of God, his use of it, conditioned the attitude to it of the believing communities. In all these Scriptures of the Old Testament, Jesus saw the holy task it was his to accomplish. In Christ, Christians saw “the word of the prophets made more certain” (II Pet. 1:19). Moses and all the prophets truly wrote of him (Luke 24:27). The principle running through the varied literature of the Old Testament, that God had a redemptive purpose for the world through Israel, was almost sufficient to bring its writings together into one composite volume. By the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, New Testament believers responded to its evidence and outline of God’s unfolding revelation and its focus on the Savior whom they had come to know. Thus the church came to honor the Old Testament as Christ honored it, and found in it divine truth.

It was, however, left to the Christian church to discover for itself, in addition to the Old Testament, a like body of accepted writings. The various New Testament authors wrote to meet the needs of their own times, but in the purpose of God these writings have become his word for all times. This collection of writings forms what is called the canon of the New Testament.

Why the Formation of a Canon

Jesus was the redeemer to whom the Old Testament gave witness. His words, it was felt, could not be less authoritative than those of the Law and the Prophets. Convinced of that, Christians repeated them often and put them into written forms that became the nucleus of the canon.

Time was passing. As long as the traditional rule of “apostolic doctrine based on Christ’s teaching and interpretation of his work” was generally held in the churches there was no need of a written rule. But as the apostles one by one died, an oral tradition was insufficient. Dissensions within churches also made appeal to the written Word both natural and necessary.

Yet the fiat of a church council did not make a specific writing canonical. No book could be declared scripture that did not hold within itself those forces which made it so. An amazing unanimity prevailed among the churches as to which writings spoke compellingly of God. That fact was uppermost in determining canonicity. The New Testament canon grew under the guidance of a spiritual instinct rather than by the imposition of an external authority.

The writings accepted were authored by those held in honor in the church–Matthew, John, Paul, Peter–as well as by less known figures behind whom was an apostolic authority–Peter behind Mark, Paul behind Luke. Some books, like the epistle to the Hebrews, took longer to attain the status of canonicity. Others, like Clement of Rome’s epistle to the Corinthians and the Shepherd of Hermas, were candidates for canonicity for some time, but did not finally succeed.

Inspiration

God’s revelation in Scripture declares itself to be God’s word. The Old Testament’s 4,000 usages of “Thus saith the Lord” specifically relates its original to God. That recurring affirmation, “God spake,” calls humankind to hear his voice from the eternities. The prophet Jeremiah was assured by God, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). To Ezekiel, God said, “Thou shalt speak my words unto to them” (Ezekiel 2:7). David declared, “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me; and his word was in my tongue” (II Sam. 23:2).

The New Testament writers at times use the phrase “the word of God” for the revelation preserved in the Old Testament. Beyond that, they identify the message of the gospel as the true meaning of that former Testament. What they had to declare was, then, no less authentically the word of God. When the first Christian believers accepted certain newer writings as Scripture (II Pet. 3:16), it was with the sureness that here too God was speaking.

The word scripture in its derivation means something that is written. Scripture is God’s word written. The Bible is eloquent with the speech of God in written form.

Inspiration is the term used for God’s direct action on the biblical writers. While the individuality of each was preserved, they were at the same time moved, guided, and guarded by the Holy Spirit so that what they wrote constitutes for humankind the one all-sufficient Word of God.

As that statement makes clear, the Bible is both a human and a divine product. We see something of its human author–his outlook, style, temperament, and the like. But it everywhere carries the stamp of the divine impulse to indicate that behind and within the work of the human author is God himself. Thus God, by the process of inspiration, is the direct author of Scripture.

Inspiration is plenary; it is full, entire, complete. Scripture in all its parts is God-breathed. Inspiration is verbal . The Bible does not simply convey ideas about God. Rather, the biblical writers put God’s revelation into words that are to be received as God’s words. The Bible therefore can be trusted.