The Writing of the Bible
The Doctrine of Inspiration - Part 1
I want to begin by stating the fact that there is no doctrine of the existence of God contained in the Bible. Oh yes, people debate this in various ways but there is no body of doctrine to provide proof and reasons to believe in the existence of a supreme being in the Bible.
The reason for this is that the Bible assumes from the beginning that God exists; it says so from the very first sentence,
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
- Genesis 1:1
The Bible states this as fact and does not provide philosophical or theological arguments to prove it.
There are ways and systems of arguments that serve to prove the existence of a higher being, an all-powerful God (apologetics), but this is not the focus of our study. We are examining the actual doctrines or teachings that are specifically contained in the Bible. A thorough knowledge of these will help us know in more detail the character, the work and the will of God, but not whether He exists or not. This we accept as true from the start.
In this context it is natural to begin with a basic doctrine that is contained in the Bible, and that is its inspiration. What does the Bible teach about itself? What is it about the Bible that makes it unique and separate from all other books? We believe the Bible teaches that it is unique and authoritative because it is directly inspired by God.
Since the Bible is a book, we need to examine the history of writing and book making before looking at the issue of inspiration.
History of Writing
Many people believed for a long time that early man was ignorant and rejected the idea that ancient civilizations used writing or writing materials. This was their main argument against the authorship of Moses or Abraham who lived thousands of years before Christ ("It could not have been Moses who wrote the first five books of the Bible because writing did not exist back then"). However, we have learned several things about ancient writing and authors since that time:
- Egypt has inscriptions that date as far back as +3000 BC.
- King Sargon I (2350 BC) has inscriptions referring to him.
- They have found letters written by Palestinian officials dating back to 1500 BC, Moses' time.
As I said before, many discounted Moses as being the author of the first five books of the Bible because he lived too early for writing to have existed, however, modern findings have confirmed writing in early civilizations and the claim that the Bible makes that Moses wrote the beginning part of the Bible has been justified. The more research, the more discoveries, the stronger the case for the Bible as the infallible Word of God.
History of Writing Materials Used in Making Ancient Books
The earliest writing materials were stone. The ten commandments (1500 BC) were inscribed on stone tablets which matches archaeological discoveries of that era.
Assyria/Babylonia used this as their main writing materials. Large libraries containing clay tablets of that period have been discovered in modern times. Ezekiel 4:1 (600 BC), God tells Ezekiel to write on a brick or clay tablet.
Wooden tableaus were used during this time as well; Isaiah 30:8 (750 BC).
Specially treated animal skins were marked upon using knives. II Timothy 4:13 probably refers to Old Testament portions written on animal skins (parchments).
Great advances were made as the Egyptians developed papyrus as a writing surface. Papyrus was a plant that grew along the Nile, inside was a spongy material. This material was removed and cut into strips which were laid side by side to form a sheet, another layer was then laid crosswise on top of it and both were pressed together. They were then dried and ready for use.
Sometimes a sheet was used alone for a letter or business receipt, sometimes they were attached together to form a scroll. A scroll was at times as long as thirty feet and usually nine to ten inches wide. Writing was done on one side and a wooden roll-pin was inserted for easy use. These were the "books" of the ancient world, referred to as scrolls. Leather was used in the Old Testament and with time papyrus was used in the New.
Papyrus codex - Codex manuscript was used in the first and second century. These were merely single papyrus sheets put together in book form, rather than rolled. Early New Testament writings were mainly in the codex form.
Vellum codex - This development was important because most New Testament manuscripts from the 4th to the 14th century were written on this type of material.
In the late first century a king named Eumenes II of Pergamum (Asia Minor) wanted to build a world-class library. The king of Egypt, for some reason, tried to prevent this by cutting off his papyrus supply. This forced the king to develop newer forms of writing materials; he did this by improving the process of treating animal skins (which had been used for hundreds of years already). He dried and processed these by rubbing them with smooth stones. Both calf (vellum/veal) or antelope skins were used. The main value of this new process, aside from beauty as some were dyed purple and written on with gold ink, was that they lasted much longer. Papyrus tended to dry and deteriorate quickly.
Two of the most valuable copies of New Testament manuscripts that still exist today were written on vellum (veal) codex (book).
Paper was invented in the Orient in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and spread westward.
Moveable type and the printing press were invented in 1448 by Guttenberg; and the first book printed on the first press was, of course, the Bible, now on display at the museum in Frankfurt, Germany. (Unfortunately Guttenberg's bankers seized his equipment and he died in debtors' prison.)
Printing remained the main communication technique for centuries, but with time electronic communication has become predominant (telegraph, telephone, radio, television, internet, voice recognition, etc.).
In our study of writing and ancient writing materials we need to realize that when it comes to the Bible, God did not always communicate with man through the written word. In other words, God's communication with man pre-dates writing. In the beginning God communicated with man orally (Adam, Genesis 1:28; Noah, Genesis 6:13; Abraham, Genesis 17:1). Only later did God instruct Moses to begin recording His instructions.
The story of the recording of the Bible as a written record is the story of God's communication to man.
The Origin of the Bible
The word Bible comes from the Greek word "biblia," which means books. The complete Bible/books numbers 66 (39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament). To study Bible origin, we must begin with the Old Testament, or a better word would be Old Covenant (alliance). This term is very useful because it helps us understand what the Bible is: the details of two covenants or agreements (accords) between God and man. The old one and the new one which replaces the old, like a lease for renting a house where certain changes are made when renewing.
The Old Testament origin
Our study of the Bible requires us to understand several features (characteristics) of the Old Testament. Written in the Hebrew language, which is still used today in Israel.
The first man charged with actually recording events and communication from God was Moses (1500 BC) (Words of covenant at Sinai, Exodus 24:1-4; Ten Commandments, Exodus 34:27-28). Moses is credited with writing and organizing the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch (John 8:31). Jesus confirms this in John 7:19,
"Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?"
Once God began to use human beings to record His words, this system continued after Moses. Joshua was the next writer (Joshua 24:26). Prophets recorded their history and prophecies after Joshua (Nehemiah 8:18). In this way over a period of 1500 years approximately, 28 writers completed the 39 books of the Old Testament. Malachi was the last to record in 516 BC. There were no other prophets or inspired writers until John the Baptist arrived and the Apostles began writing about Jesus' life and ministry.
All these books were collected and assembled together into one volume by 400 BC, and the Jews had a complete "Bible" 300 years before Christ.
Old Testament organization
The Jews had the same Old Testament as we do, but they organized it a little differently. They divided the Old Testament into three main sections:
- The Law:
- Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy). This was of the highest importance.
- The Prophets
- Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel). Each had their own volume.
- Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Minor Prophets (book of twelve in one volume).
- The (Holy) Writings
- Poetry/History (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, etc. Esther to Nehemiah, Daniel: historical).
They organized these in 24 books instead of our usual 39 books:
- Genesis to Deuteronomy (five books).
- Former (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) (four books).
- Latter (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 12 minor) (four books)
- Poetry/History (eleven books - 24 total)
Today we have the same books but they are divided differently:
- Genesis to Deuteronomy (five books)
- Joshua to Esther (twelve books)
- Job to Song of Solomon (five books)
- Major Prophets:
- Isaiah to Daniel (five long books)
- Minor Prophets:
- Hosea to Malachi (12 short books)
- Total 39 books
In addition to these inspired books, the Jews wrote and circulated other books that were about the Bible but not inspired by God:
- The Talmud:
- Not to be confused with the Torah, which means law or the Law.
- The Talmud was a body of Jewish writings that interpreted the Old Testament.
- It contained commentaries on the Old Testament called Mishnah, and the Midrash, as well as many legal and social writings about Jewish life and religious practice.
- It was not inspired but eventually the Jews came to follow its instructions more carefully than the original Old Testament.
- Apocryphal (Hidden Writings):
- Non-inspired religious books (Esdras, Judith, Maccabees). Many end-of-time ideas come from these.
- A history book and commentary on Jewish life during the time of Christ.
When we read the Old Testament however, we are reading the same books that the Jews read, and that Jesus and the Apostles read and taught from.
Also, these were the books that the Apostles used to proclaim the coming of Christ.
- Discuss the introductory statements from the associated text regarding no mention of the doctrine of God's existence in scripture.
- How does the existence of writing dispel the mistaken belief that Abraham or Moses could not have written early biblical documents?
- Summarize the history of writing materials used in making ancient books and how this supports the recording of scripture.
- Summarize the origin of the Bible.
- List the three main areas of the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures.
- List the main divisions of the Old Testament used by Christians.
- What other books are used by Jews and Christians but are not inspired by God?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?