Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Is the Bible the words of God? (Old Testament part 1)

Is the Bible reliable?  Is the Bible a trustworthy book?  In other words, is the Bible from God?  These are valid questions if we plan to base our lives – and our eternal destiny – on the Bible.  If it is not reliable and not from God, then we may gain as much benefit from reading any other religious or philosophical book.  If, however, the Bible can be reasonably shown to be historically accurate and trustworthy, there are critical and profound implications for each of us today.  One key point to remember in making this determination is that the burden of proof should not exceed that found in modern courtrooms:  One should not be presumed guilty; rather, one should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  In other words, we should not enter this inquiry with a presupposition, which many have done, that the Bible must be inaccurate.  The books of the Bible should receive the same benefit of the doubt as any other ancient historical books. 

The authenticity of the New Testament has already been covered on this website, so this article will address the Old Testament.  Because so much of the N.T. is dependent on the O.T. and vice versa, demonstrating the reliability of one comes very close to validating the other.  Four major categories of evidence for the truth of the Old Testament are covered here:  manuscript evidence, the New Testament, prophecy, and archaeology.

I.             Manuscript Evidence
The Old Testament was completed around 400 B.C., according to conservative scholars.[i]  At a minimum, we know the O.T. was completed at least by 250 B.C. because the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek at that time.  Alexander the Great reigned from 336-323 B.C. and, during this time, many of the Jews were scattered throughout the Greek empire.  Shortly thereafter a need arose for the Hebrew scriptures to be translated into Greek, which many Jews had learned to speak.  During the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Greek version of the O.T. was produced, with at least some of it completed around 285 B.C.  The Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible, was translated first, then other books later.[ii]  This Greek version is known as the Septuagint (or simply LXX), from the Latin word for seventy, because there were seventy translators who worked on the project.  The Septuagint was completed by approximately 250 B.C., indicating that the Hebrew scriptures were, of course, finished before that time.  Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. – A.D. 50) evidently knew the Greek version of the scriptures and Josephus (c. A.D. 37-100) generally depended on the Septuagint when writing Antiquities.[iii]  Exact dates are not critical; the point is that there is ample evidence the O.T. was completed prior to the first century. 

One of the first questions that needs to be addressed is whether the documents which are the Old Testament have been reliably copied and transmitted to us today.  The O.T. was written over a period from approximately the fifteenth century to the sixth century B.C.  The oldest manuscript (MS) of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available prior to 1947 is the Cairo Codex, dated around A.D. 895.  This is located in the British Museum and contains both latter and former prophets.  The earliest complete MS of the O.T. is the Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus (A.D. 1008), now located in Leningrad.[iv]  Were the original documents faithfully copied by scribes for more than a thousand years?  There are several reasons to believe they were.  One, the New Testament writers during the first century A.D. quoted the Old Testament numerous times and those quotes match very closely with the manuscripts.  Second, early church fathers, writing from the second century on, quoted the O.T. numerous times.  Third, a very significant discovery occurred in 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near Qumran.  In these caves were found approximately 600 scrolls and thousands of fragments, which contained portions of all of the O.T. books except Esther.  The entire book of Isaiah was found and this was dated to around 125 B.C.  The Essenes or other Jewish group had hidden these scrolls in 11 caves near the Dead Sea to preserve them from the impending attack of the Romans around A.D. 68.  So, the scrolls can be dated at least to the first century A.D. and some, such as the book of Isaiah, were dated by paleographers to around 125 B.C., placing these more than 1,000 years earlier than any manuscripts we previously possessed.[v]  A comparison of the Isaiah manuscripts – separated by about 1,000 years - showed that the copies from Qumran “proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text.  The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”[vi]  Comparisons of other books led to the same conclusion:  The Old Testament has been reliably copied and transmitted through the years to us today. 

II.           Corroboration with the New Testament
Another reason to believe that the Old Testament is reliable and authoritative is that the New Testament writers directly quoted or alluded to O.T. writings, citing them as divinely inspired.  Roger Nicole stated, concerning New Testament quotations and references to the O.T., “a very conservative count discloses unquestionably at least 295 separate references to the Old Testament. These occupy some 352 verses of the New Testament.”[vii]  If clear allusions are taken into account, the figure is much higher.  Every N.T. writer directly quoted or referenced O.T. scriptures as true.  Jesus Christ referred to many of the most questioned O.T. passages, such as the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-5), Jonah and the great fish (Matthew 12:40-41), Noah’s flood (Matthew 24:37-39) and the creation of the world (Mark 13:19).  Jesus spoke of these and other O.T. events as real historical occurrences.  Jesus spoke of the imperishability of the O.T. when He stated, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).  In John 10:35, He also stated, “the scripture cannot be broken (cancelled or annulled).  Jesus taught that the scriptures are the truth of God when He asked the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus included the entire O.T.in His acceptance of authoritative books when He stated, “from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah” (Matthew 23:35).  Abel is mentioned in Genesis 4 and the book of Zechariah was at the end of the first century Jewish Bible.

Luke validated the authority of the Psalms when he wrote, “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16, reference to Psalm 41:9).  Paul cited the O.T. numerous times as holy scripture, for example in writing to the Romans, “For what does the scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:3, reference to Genesis 15:6).  James 2:23 cites the same verse in Genesis, stating “the scripture was fulfilled”.  Peter asserted the authority of the O.T. by stating, “For this is contained in scripture: ‘Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed’” (1 Peter 2:6, reference to Isaiah 28:16).  If Old Testament historical accounts are not accurate, then we must throw out the New Testament as well.  Jesus and the New Testament writers believed that the Old Testament is true and inspired by God. 

III.          Prophecy
Did the prophecies foretold in the Old Testament come true?  This would be a valid test for the divine inspiration of prophetic messages.  Conversely, if some are clearly demonstrated to be false, the divine inspiration would be disproven.  Many of the prophecies in the O.T. told of specific details concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Depending on the specificity, if one or two of these prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus, they may be dismissed as coincidence.  But, as numerous references made hundreds, even a thousand years before Jesus, and some very unusual and specific, the case for a divine inspiration of these writings becomes overwhelming.  Jesus appealed to messianic prophecies on a number of occasions, such as is recorded by Luke, who wrote, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).  New Testament writers also appealed to prophecies fulfilled in Jesus, including Acts 10:43, which states, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”  Josh McDowell, in his landmark book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, states that the O.T. contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus.[viii]  In the book, 61 of these are listed in detail.  A few examples here will illustrate the point sufficiently.

A.  Bethlehem
One of the clearest references to Jesus in the Old Testament is in Micah 5:2, written around 700 B.C., which states, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for me to be ruler in Israel.  His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity."  Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was recorded in Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4-7, and John 7:42. 

B.  Thirty pieces of silver
The prophet Zechariah, around 520 B.C., provided at least three distinct prophecies regarding the betrayal of Jesus when he wrote, “I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!’  So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’  So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.” (Zechariah 11:12-13).  About 550 years later, Matthew wrote, “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’  And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.  The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘it is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’  And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.” (Matthew 27:3-7).  This one O.T. passage, fulfilled in one N.T. passage, details three specific and unusual prophecies:  1)thirty pieces of silver, 2)thrown into the house of the Lord, and 3)used to buy a potter’s field.

C.  Hands and feet will be pierced
Approximately 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, King David wrote several very specific prophecies, including much of Psalm 22, which states in one verse, “A band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16).  Then, Luke records that Jesus proved His identity to the disciples by showing them the scars in His hands and feet: “’See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’  And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet” (Luke 24:39-40).  David predicted that Jesus’ hands and feet would be pierced.

[i] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Bloomingham, MN:  Bethany House Publishers, 2002), 439.
[ii] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1988), 43.
[iii] Ibid., 46.
[iv] Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA:  Here’s Life Publishers, 1972), 56.
[v] Ibid., 58.
[vi] Gleason Archer, A Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL:  Moody Press, 1964), 19.
[vii] Roger Nicole, in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl. F.H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 137.
[viii] McDowell, 144.

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