How We Got our Bible – Hebrews 4:11-16


Which of the following adjectives describe the Bible? Quaint; obsolete; unique; spiritual; unintelligible; esoteric; gibberish; difficult; stupid; timely? How can a book which was completed 2,000 years ago, still be contemporary? What is the theological definition of “Biblical Inspiration?”

In talking with the lost, it is important that we be able to speak the same language. But just because we both may speak English, it doesn’t mean that we can communicate. The language of the Christian is the Bible. Not often, but once in a while an unbeliever will ask: “How did you Christians get your Bible?” Our lesson this morning is more for the Christian’s information than for educating or evangelizing the lost, however once in a while someone will insist on an answer before allowing us to move on to the Gospel.

The physical materials of the Bible.
Is the original copy of Homer’s “Iliad” tucked away in a museum in Athens? What do you suppose happened to that original copy? Does that mean that there was no original copy? Are there original copies of any of the sixty-six books of the Bible left in the world? What sort of conclusions should we draw from that fact? Why aren’t there any original copies of the books of the Bible?

Among the available materials for writing in Biblical days, the most common was papyrus. The oldest know fragments of papyrus date back to about 2400 BC. When was the Exodus? (About 1700 BC.) From what was papyrus made? (The papyrus plant, a reed common to shallow lakes in the mid-East.) The Syrian port of Byblos was made famous and wealthy shipping papyrus all over the Mediterranean. How have the words “papyrus” and “Byblos” been preserved? Despite a few rare fragments, what is the likelihood of papyrus lasting more than a couple of centuries?

What is parchment? (Writing material prepared from animal skins.) What is vellum? (Vellum is parchment made from fine calf-skin. It is higher quality parchment.) The earliest known examples of parchment scrolls date from around 1500 BC. What is the likelihood that some of the original scriptures were written on leather? What were some other types of writing materials available to the ancients? (Stone, clay, pottery, wax.)

What is a scroll? What is the longest known ancient scroll? (144 feet.) What was the average length of a scroll? (20 to 35 feet.) What is an “opisthograph?” (A scroll written on both sides.) What is a “codex?” (Sheets of papyrus which were assembled into books.) What would you think would make reading more convenient: a book or a scroll? It is believed by some scholars that books became popular because of the growth of Christianity.

Writing styles.
In how many original languages were the Scriptures written? (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.)

Early copies of the Greek New Testament scriptures are found in both “uncial” and “minuscule” versions. What does “minuscule” mean in modern English? The earliest known copies of the Greek scriptures were written in “uncial” form. “Uncial” refers to an handwriting form with large, ornate formal letters. What would you surmise that “minuscule” versions of the scriptures were like? In what style would you guess that the oldest known copies of the Bible: the Vaticanus (325 AD) and Sinaiticus (350AD) were written? Would you like to venture a guess as to why that was the style of those copies? (They were written for display.)

Modern English contains lots interconnecting grammatical parts. What are the vowels? (A letter: a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.) What is a consonant? (All the rest of the letters. Actually it is a sound in speech created by the obstruction of air coming out of the throat.) What is a noun? (Person, place or thing.) What is a verb? (Part of speech which expresses some sort of action.) What is punctuation? Both ancient Hebrew and Greek were written quit differently than modern English. The original Hebrew was written without vowels. Israelite children just learned where and when to insert the proper vowels. People mistakenly think that only the “Tetragrammaton” contains no vowels, but it was originally common to all Hebrew. What is the “Tetragrammaton?” (YHWH or JHWH) which was used for the “Name” of God.Between the 5th and 10th centuries AD, Jewish scholars, the Massoretes, added vowels to the Old Testament scriptures.

The original Greek also had a confusing quirk: there were no spaces between words. But all their words ended either in a vowel or one of three consonants, so Greek children quickly learned how to divide up sentences.

Were the scriptures originally written in a style with chapters and verses? The Old Testament was divided into chapters by 165 BC, but at first they were only notes in the margins. The New Testament was divided into chapters somewhere between 250 and 325 AD. The division of chapters into verses came much, much later. When would you guess that the verses of the Bible became standarized? (About 1500 AD.) What would you expect was the chief catalyst toward that standarization? (The printing press.)

The Canon of Scripture.
The sixty-six books of our Bibles are called the “canon” of scripture. What does the word “canon” mean? (The standard.) The word “canon” comes from the Greek word for “reed” which were used as measuring rods. It was in the third-century that theologians started talking about the standard Bible or canon of Scriptures.

Now, this is important: The early Christians or the early church did not decide which books should be included in the canon. What those early Christians did was to recognize which books had been considered inspired of God from their inception. To put it another way: A book like Acts is not the Word of God because it was accepted by the people of God. A book was accepted by the people of God because it is the Word of God. God gives the book its divine authority, not the people who read it, believe it or analyze it. It has never been our job to question a book’s inclusion in the Bible. It’s our job to receive the revelation that God has given to us therein.

There are at least five principles which guided the saints in their determination of the canon of scriptures. Was the book written by a prophet of God? Was the writer or penman somehow confirmed by God? What are some ways in which a writer might have been confirmed by the Lord? Third, does the message of that book tell the truth? The early Christians practiced the idea: “If in doubt, throw it out.” Does this book come with the power of God? What does Hebrew 4:12 say? (“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.)” We believe that the Bible is unlike anything written by mere man. And we believe that it moves the heart and soul, unlike any of the emotional writings of men. The presence of the Lord proves the validity of His word. And fifth, was the book accepted by the people of God to whom it was first given as the Word of God?

It was extremely important to the early church to know what was, and what wasn’t the scripture. Why? There were lots of counterfeit and spurious books being preached in some churches. Some of these are still around today. What are the best known of this bunch called? (The Apocrypha.) As early as 140 AD the heretic Marcion was developing and spreading his own canon of scripture. And by 325 or so the heretic Origen was doing the same. The saints needed to know what the scripture really included. Another need for clarification was the work of missions. How so? In 303 AD Diocletian called for the destruction of the sacred books of the Christians. If you were being asked to give up your life for the scriptures, wouldn’t you want to be sure that it really was worth dying for?

The earliest reference that we have to the complete New Testament canon came from Athanasius in 367 AD. Before him, Polycarp Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus, all before 200 AD quoted New Testament books and called them “scriptures.” In other words, just a couple of generations after the Apostles, the saints of God knew what were and what were not the scriptures. By the way, what does the word “scripture” mean? (Holy writings.) So within a couple of generations the saints knew what was the Bible and by the middle of the 3rd century there was no doubt.

By the grace of God, we still possess God’s Word today.