The Origin of The Bible

This article looks at the history of writing and examines how the Bible originated and closes with information on how the Old Testament was organized.

In a given year the faithful Christian will hear approximately 250 to 300 Bible lessons when you count regular attendance, devotionals, weddings, funerals and other occasions where the Bible is preached or taught. That’s a lot of attention to one source, a lot of time spent learning about a single book.

Of course we think that it’s time well spent since we believe that the Bible is God’s word. We usually study what’s in the Bible, what it says, but tonight and next week I want to talk about the Bible itself:

  • How it came to be
  • How we know that it’s from God

Why we can be assured that our Bible is reliable and worthy of all the time we invest in studying it.

Since the Bible is a book, we’ll begin with the history of writing and writing materials used in making ancient books.

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.

“Couldn’t have been Moses because writing didn’t exist then.”

However we have learned several things about ancient writing and authors.

  1. Egypt has inscriptions that date as far back as 4000 – 5000 B.C.
  2. King Sargon I – 2350 B.C. has inscriptions referring to him.
  3. They have found letters written by Palestinian officials dating back to 1500 B.C. (Moses’ time)

As I said before, many discounted Moses as being the author of the first 5 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.

NB 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.

1. Stone – Earliest writing materials were stone. 10 commandments (1500 B.C.) were on stone, which matches archaeological discoveries.

2. Clay – Assyria /Babylonia used this as their main writing materials. Large libraries have been discovered in modern times – all clay tablets. Ezekiel 4:1 (600 B.C.) God tells Ezekiel to write on a brick or clay tablet.

3. Wood – Wooden tables used during the time as well. Isaiah 30:8 (750B.C.)

4. Leather – Specially treated animal skins were marked upon using knives. II Timothy 4:13 probably refers to O.T. portions written on arrival skins (parchments).

5. Papyrus – Great advances were made as the Egyptians developed papyrus as a writing surface. Papyrus was a plant that grew along the Nile. Inside was spongy material. This material was removed, cut into strips which were laid side by side to form a sheet, another layer was 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 roll was about 30ft. long and 9-10 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 O.T. and with time papyrus was used in the new.

6. Papyrus Codex – Codex manuscript was used in the 1st & 2nd century. These were merely single papyrus sheets put together in book form, rather than rolled. Early N.T. writings were mainly in the Codex form.

7. Vellum Codex – This development was important because most N.T. manuscripts from the 4th to 14th century were written on this type of material. In the late 1st century a king named Eumenes II of Perganum (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 (Necessity the mother of invention). He did this by improving the process of treating animal skins (which had been used for hundreds of years already). He dried and processed (by rubbing with smooth stones) calves (Vellum/Veal) or antelope skins. The main value of this new process (aside from beauty – 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 N.T. manuscripts that still exist today were written on Vellum (Veal) Codex (Book).

8. Paper – Paper was invented in the orient in the 13 – 14th century and spread westward from there.

9. Printing Press – Moveable type and the printing press invented in 1448 by Guttenberg and the first book printed on the first press was, of course, the Bible.

10. Communication Age – Printing remained the main communication technique for centuries but with time electronic communication has become predominate. Telegraph, telephone, radio, T.V., Internet, Voice Recog.

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 in Genesis 1:28; Noah in Genesis 6:13; Abraham in Genesis 17:1). Only later did God instruct man (Moses) to begin recording His instructions.

The story of the recording 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 (39/27)

To study Bible origin we must begin with the O.T. or a better word is Old Covenant. This term is very useful because it helps us understand what the Bible is: The details of two covenants or agreements between God and man.

The old one and the new one, which replaces the old (like a lease where certain changes are made when renewing)

The Old Testament Origin

Our study of the Bible requires us to understand several features of the Old Testament. Written in the Hebrew language, which is still used today in Israel. First man charged with actually recording events and communication from God was Moses (1500 B.C.)

  • Exodus 24: 1-4 – Words of covenant at Sinai
  • Exodus 34: 27-28 – Ten Commandments

Moses credited with writing and organizing the first 5 books of the Bible (Pentateuch) Josh.8: 31 Jesus confirms this in Matthew 4:4.

Once God began to use human beings to record His words, this systems continued after Moses. Joshua was the next writer after Moses – 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 O.T.

  • Malachi was the last to record in 516 BC.
  • No other prophets until John the Baptist.

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.

2. O.T. Organization

The Jews had the same O.T. as we do but they organized it a little differently. They divided the O.T. into 3 main sections:

A. The Law: Genesis to Deuteronomy.

  • This was the highest importance

B. The Prophets:

1. Former Prophets

  • Joshua, Judges, Samuel
  • Each had their own volume

2. Latter Prophets

  • Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel.
  • Minor Prophets (Book of 12) in one volume.

C. The (Holy) Writings – Poetry, History

  • Job, Psalms, Proverbs etc
  • Ester to Nehemiah
  • Daniel
  • They organized these into 24 books instead of our usual 39 books.
    • Pentateuch – Genesis to Deuteronomy = 5 Books
    • Prophets – Former = 4 Books
    • Latter = 4 Books
    • Writings – Poetry/History = 11

Today we have the same books but they are divided differently:

  1. Pentateuch – Genesis to Deuteronomy = 5 books
  2. History – Joshua to Esther = 12
  3. Poetry – Job to Songs of Solomon = 5
  4. Major Prophets – Isaiah to Daniel = 5 (Long Books)
  5. Minor Prophets – Hosea to Malachi = 12 (Short Books)

In addiction to these inspired books, the Jews wrote and circulated other books that were about the Bible but not inspired by God:

a) Talmud (Not to be confused with Torah, which means Law or The Law)

Talmud was a body of Jewish writing that interpreted the O.T. It contained commentaries on the O.T. called the Mishuah, 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 instruction more carefully than the original O.T.

b) Apocryphal (Hidden Writings)

Many end of time ideas came from these – Non-inspired religious books. Esdras; Judith; Maccbees.

c) Josephus – A history book and commentary on Jewish life during the time of Christ.

When we read the O.T. however, we are reading the same books that the Jews read that Jesus and the Apostles read and taught from.

I did not mention it but the single message of the entire Bible is this: Be Saved!

From Adam to Apocalypse God calls out to all, through His word The Bible, which they need to be saved through Jews Christ. If, in your reading, you have heard this message and believe it why not come now repenting of your sins and as Ananias says to Paul in Acts 22:16 – “wash away your sins”.. in the water of baptism.