How was the Bible formed? Part 2: OT

Many of you will know that I’m a NT major, so I have spent more time with the NT than the OT, however, one cannot understand either alone. The NT is filled with allusions from and built upon the foundation of the OT, and conversely, studying the OT alone will get you where the 1st century Jews got, namely: missing Jesus. The OT is a different kind of literature than the NT. It was written primarily in Hebrew. Then about 300 years before Jesus’ ministry there was a consented effort to accurately translate the Hebrew OT into Greek. This translation (or better, “these translations”) are known as the Septuagint (LXX). It’s from these Greek translations that the NT most often quotes from. You can read my post from Tuesday on the formation of the NT canon.

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Ancient Hebrews, in a lot of ways, were very different than most people today. They were part of an oral culture. There would have been very few written copies of the Bible (what we call the OT) in the beginning. Many Hebrews had huge sections from the OT memorized by heart (there were no chapters or verse indicators for quick reference). Many knew huge sections word-for-word. Yep, word for word. We can’t imagine this today, but it was their way of life.

As God spoke to His people, many times He did so through

specifically called prophets. First there was an oral delivery by a prophet. True prophets received information in visions and by mysterious means of knowledge. Over 3,800 times in the OT it says “Thus says the Lord.” Many take these section to be delivered verbatim as received by God. These prophets (or their followers) collected and wrote them down. Today, we focus more on the written record, such as in court reporting. Once it’s written down, we often put it out of our minds, after all, it’s down in “the record.” The Ancient Hebrew would rely much more on the oral tradition, passed down via memorization and eventually being written down, no need for a backup harddrive.

So when it comes to the written OT, which records “made it” as scripture? After the oral tradition was written down, the books (on scrolls) the priests and scribes (in the Second Temple period) counted as scripture were those believed to be from prophets. Their authority was usually confirmed by an act of God, the writings told the truth about God in harmony with the other prophetic writings, and were accepted by the people of God as true. The community of faith took great care in what was considered “Scripture” and what was simply valuable writing.

Malachi is the last book of the OT to be written (1 & 2 Chronicles was written after Malachi, but these books are a retelling of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, it is not a new revelation). The next prophetic word in redemptive history, according to Malachi, would be the one crying in the wilderness (John the Baptist) so there were over 400 years of silence between the end of the OT and the start of the NT (which we call the inter-testimental period cf. Mal 4:4-6).

After the time of Ezra and the Chronicler, many other books were written, and though considered very valuable, the Jewish priests and scribes did not consider any of them sacred. The apostles and church fathers did not recognize them as of the same authority as the Hebrew Canon either and even Jerome was reluctant to include them in his Latin Vulgate. These books (the Apocrypha, literally “secret” or “hidden”) are similar in authority to the pseudepigrapha for the NT. Pseudepigraphical books (e.g. “The Gospel of Thomas” or “The Gospel of Judas”) were written hundreds of years after the NT books, and are not considered Scriptures either. Both Jews and Christians rejected theses outside works as Scriptures early on, that is, until the Catholic church changed it’s mind in 1546. It’s important to note that there was not a collection of hundreds of books, and only 66 “made the cut.”

In the NT (cf. 2Tim 3:16-17) it is confirmed that the Scriptures are God’s word and are thus “profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.” The statement is that ALL scripture is God’s word, this makes it ALL true.

While all this is valid, for me, the most compelling argument for Scripture being Scripture is that Jesus considered it to be true. Setting aside all the (good) detailed arguments for trusting the Bible, the long and the short of it is, we can trust the Bible as God’s word because Jesus and the Apostles took it as God’s word. It all comes down to Jesus. Both OT and NT are verified by Jesus and His followers, Jesus is the key to trusting the Bible.

Much of the NT relies on it’s readers understanding the OT. Actually, these terms “old” and “new” for the two sections of our Bible were not original to the Bible itself. The first recorded time this kind of designation was used was by Melito of Sardis in the late second century (recorded in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26.1). He called them the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant”, but in his usage it did not mean what we hear today in the modern usage of the terms. We think “new replaces old” but that’s not really the case with the Bible. Jesus makes it clear that He did not come to abolish (prove untrue) the OT, but the New Covenant brings the Old Covenant to it’s intended end/destination (Matt 5:17).

You can’t really appreciate/understand where you are without knowing where you’ve been. The OT is good, the OT is trustworthy. We need to do a better job of knowing the OT.

What about you? What importance do you place on the OT?

What value (by a percentage) would you place on the OT vs. NT in your life today?

If you could only pick 10 books out of the whole Bible to read for the rest of your life, which would they be?

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Thanks to my friend Derek Leman for some “tweaks” and editing suggestions. Though we don’t agree 100% on everything, he has an honest heart and more knowledge about the Hebrew Bible than most. You would do well to follow his blog(s).

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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  • James in Irving, Texas

    10 books out of the whole Bible:

    The first two give the essentials of the gospel and the early Christian history:
    Luke
    Acts

    Add Paul’s most theological letter:
    Romans

    Add anotther gospel that adds a unique perspective:
    John

    Now for the origin of humanity, fall of man, Abraham, promises of redemption:
    Genesis

    Moses, departure from Egypt, giving of the 10 commandments and the law:
    Exodus

    History of Israels kings and prophets:
    I Samuel
    II Samuel
    I Kings
    II Kings

  • James in Irving, Texas

    What about you? What importance do you place on the OT?

    Sometimes I think OT is given too little attention.

    And yet, the events in the OT, such as Korah’s rebellion, David’s adultery and murdering of Uriah, Solomon’s apostasy, Manasseh’s wickedness and repentance, were written down for the benefit of those that came afterwards.

    “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” – Romans 15:4

  • James in Irving, Texas

    What about you? What importance do you place on the OT?

    Sometimes I think OT is given too little attention.

    And yet, the events in the OT, such as Korah’s rebellion, David’s adultery and murdering of Uriah, Solomon’s apostasy, Manasseh’s wickedness and repentance, were written down for the benefit of those that came afterwards.

    “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” – Romans 15:4

  • Great thoughts James, praise God we don’t have to choose which books we get!

  • Great thoughts James, praise God we don’t have to choose which books we get!

  • Thanks, John Mark. Yeah, the more learned we become in a field the more subtle differences we may notice in our approach compared to others. But the 99% in common outweighs the 1.

  • Thanks, John Mark. Yeah, the more learned we become in a field the more subtle differences we may notice in our approach compared to others. But the 99% in common outweighs the 1.

  • Absolutely! and I’m always learning… it’s important to keep our “eye on the ball” but that’s my post for 6-14 😉

  • Absolutely! and I’m always learning… it’s important to keep our “eye on the ball” but that’s my post for 6-14 😉