The Old Testament Apocrypha (The History of the Bible, part 6)

Now, I know that some of you may disagree with some of the things I say in this section. I will be talking about the Apocrypha. Gasp! Those of you who grew up in a Protestant church will have had little contact with these “extra books.” I’ve heard so many times, “those Catholics have extra books in their Bible.”

It’s true. Those Catholics do have extra books in their Bible, but that is because those reformers took them out of “our Bible.” The “extra books,” the Old Testament Apocrypha, were in the Septuagint originally. The Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament. When Jerome translated the Latin Bible from the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament in the 4th century, he kept the Old Testament Apocrypha in it. The Catholic Church also uses the Apocrypha along with the Old and New Testaments. It wasn’t until the Reformation that it was taken out of the Bible, when the big push for Sola Scriptura hit.

I should probably explain my position on the Apocrypha now…. I respect it. I believe that the Apocrypha has value in the church, but I do not elevate it to the level of scripture. It should be read in the church just like we read any other extra-biblical text. Don’t we read quotes by modern theologians and pastors? How is this book of Christian history and instruction for the Christian life any different? The Apocrypha has history of the Jews between the time of their release from Babylon and where the New Testament picks up. I often wondered as a kid what happened in that space of time. We can use the Apocrypha as an authority on Jewish history, but I don’t think it should be used as the basis for any theology. Jesus references “The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” as scripture. I think we should trust The Word of God for what we use as the Word of God. So is the Apocrypha scripture? Eh…. Not in my opinion, but I will read it just like I read St. Irenaeus and St. Athanasius. They never claimed to be scripture, but we can read what they write in church because it contains some of the truths of scripture.

 

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The Old Testament: Hebrew and Greek (History of the Bible, part 5)

Last week I discussed the separation of Old and New Testament, or rather the lack thereof, the divisions in the Old and New Testament, and the creation of the Canon. This week we will talk specifically about the translation process and accuracy of the Old Testament.

How do we know that the Hebrew Old Testament is accurate after thousands of years of translation? The Masoretes, Jewish tradition keepers, carefully preserved their scriptures. They memorized them along with regularly making copies. Unfortunately, they also destroyed the old copies regularly as well. They didn’t want the sacred text to be used inappropriately (toilet paper), soooo they stored the extra copies in the genizah, a room attached to the Temple. After a period of time they would bury the documents in a special place. Archeologists have found several of the genizah rooms, the most famous being the Cairo Genizah. Finding these have helped to give confidence in the manuscripts that we do have. However, it was hard to say just how accurate our copies of the Hebrew text are until 1948 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave at Qumran. The text of the Dead Sea Scrolls are much older, 250 BC to AD 135, than the manuscripts that we had previously, which are from AD 800 to 1,000. The oldest Hebrew manuscript before this discovery was the Leningrad Codex, AD 1008. (deadseascrollsfoundation.com).

The Dead Sea Scrolls have a representation of every book of the Old Testament except for Esther, which was in debate because the name of God is never mentioned. There is a complete copy of Isaiah, which allows the old and new to be compared much more easily.

Another way of verifying the Hebrew Old Testament is by comparing it to the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX). Under the rule of Alexander the Great, Egypt came to speak Greek. Ptolemy Philadelphus commissioned the translation of the sacred text of the Jews to add to the Library of Alexandria. The story of the translation process might not be so accurate. No one knows what really happened, but it goes like this:

 

The king accordingly, as a preliminary , purchased the freedom of more than one hundred thousand Jewish captives, and he then sent a deputation, of which Aristeas himself was one, to Eleazer the high-priest to request a copy of the Jewish Law and seventy-two interpreters, six out of each tribe. To this the priest is represented to have agreed ; and after the arrival of the translators and their magnificent reception by the king, they are said to have been conducted to an island by Demetrius, who wrote down the renderings on which they agreed by mutual conference; and thus the work is stated to have been completed in seventy-two days. The translators are then said to have received from the king most abundant rewards; and the Jews are stated to have asked permission to take copies of the version. (ecmarsh.com/lxx)

No matter the method of translation, the Septuagint is an excellent way to verify the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. There are some differences of course. When the Hebrew text is translated into English, there are definite differences between it and the LXX, which went through Greek first. The copies we have of the Septuagint are 1,000 years older than the copies of the oldest Hebrew text.

This may not seem very important to some, but because we have the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint, we can have confidence in the original text as it has been preserved through history. Who knows what we will find next?!

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The Division of the Bible and the Canon (History of the Bible, part 4)

Have you ever wondered how the Bible came to be separated into two testaments? What in the world is a testament anyway? Many people question this, and that is an excellent thing to do! People who don’t ask questions usually aren’t learning anything!

Testament- Latin- testamentum- Greek- diatheke, refers to a covenant, like the Old Testament Covenants God made with the Israelites. Testament refers to a last will and testament. So what is a covenant? It’s a contract. Some are conditional and some aren’t. God’s covenant with Noah to never flood the earth again was unconditional. Salvation is the new covenant. It is conditional on our choosing to believe in Jesus. Old and New Testament refers to the old and new covenant of God with His people (God’s people are not just the Israelites). The New Covenant is previewed in Jeremiah 31.

First, let’s talk about the division of the Old and New Testament. It isn’t really a division. The Old Testament, known as the Hebrew Bible, was and still is the Jewish Scriptures. That is where the Jews stop, except for extra books such as the Talmud and Mishnah. The New Testament came after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is purely a Christian text. The Jews do not give it any authority.

Next, let’s discuss the divisions in the Old Testament. I will not be discussing each book’s content, but I may provide a brief summary of each book later on in this series. The Old Testament is divided into three major categories. The Torah, which is the Hebrew word for Law, is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The 600 plus laws in the Torah are the basis for being a good Jew. The Nevi’im, prophets, is historical and prophetical books. The Ketuvim, writings, is the poetry and wisdom literature.

The New Testament is divided into Gospels, Epistles, History, and Apocalyptic Literature. The Gospels are the account of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. The Epistles are letters written by the apostles to churches or leaders of the churches. The only historical book is Acts, the record of the early church and the apostles. The only apocalyptic book is Revelation. It can be interpreted in a variety of ways, which I may discuss at a later date.

Now, what is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? St. Augustine says it quite beautifully, “The New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament.” The Old covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, which has two parts. If the Israelites will follow God’s commandments, He will give them the land of Canaan and drive out their enemies. It is conditional upon the Israelites obeying God. The New Covenant, first mentioned in Jeremiah 31, is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many.” Unlike what some people think, Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament. He was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the new.

The next question is, who decided what was put in the Bible? It didn’t just fall from the sky, and it wasn’t found in the woods as a complete book. The early church took special care to put the Bible together. The Bible was written by various authors over a period of 1400 years and in several different countries, from Italy and Greece to Mesopotamia and Persia. The authors include kings, herdsmen, soldiers, legislators, fishermen, statesmen, courtiers, priests, prophets, tentmakers, Rabbis, and Greek physicians. The Bible contains a variety of different literature: history, law, religious poetry, didactic treatises, lyric poetry, parable and allegory, biography, personal correspondence, personal memoirs, and prophetic and apocalyptic literature. The Bible is an anthology, but an anthologist did not compile it. Through all of these different authors and styles, there is a continuous theme, Jesus Christ.

When we speak of the Bible, we are only talking about a certain few books. Who decided which books made the list? Well, the “list” is the Canon. Canon means rule or standard, and when applied to the Bible it refers to the list of books that are considered to be inspired by God and authoritative. In AD 70, the Council of Jamnia discussed and decided on the current books of the Hebrew Bible as the authoritative Word of God. This was already the public opinion, but they made it permanent. Jesus also mentions, “The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” in one of the Gospels, which would have taken place between AD 26-33. In AD 367, St. Athanasius wrote his Festal Letter to the churches. This was the first time that the 27 books of the New Testament were listed together. Notice that this was over 300 years after the death of Jesus. That means that the Church was without a “Bible” for that period of time. They didn’t have a complete book, but they did have all of the parts, which they shared amongst the churches. They had a collection called, “The Gospel,” which was divided into different authors, and they had “The Apostle,” which was divided into the different letters of Paul to the Churches. Acts was given the same prestige as Luke’s gospel, and the churches read them all and gave them authority in their lives. The books were not carelessly selected to be put in the Bible. They followed the Vincention Canon. The books had to be read everywhere always by all. If only one church read a certain book, that wasn’t good enough. Or if a new book popped up in the 2nd century, they didn’t accept it as Scripture. Some deuterocanonical books were read in the church, but they were not given any authority. This was kind of like reading a devotional book or a commentary. They could have a lot of truth and instruction for daily living, but they are not Scripture.

It is important to realize that “the Bible” did not precede the Church. The Church was crucial in the formation of the Canon of Scripture. Dr. Foakes-Jackson says it right, “The Church assuredly did not make the New Testament; the two grew up together.” This is a beautiful image. The apostles who wrote scripture formed the church after the command of Jesus to do so. I will talk more about the Early Church later.

I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am! Next week we will discuss the Old Testament, both Hebrew and Greek, in more detail.

My main source is The Books and the Parchments by F. F. Bruce

The Green-eyed Monster

Greed. Associated with green eyes and wanting loads of money. What is greed? Are we all victims of it? I think so. In the Oxford English Dictionary, greed is defined as “inordinate or insatiate longing, especially for wealth; avaricious or covetous desire.” Greed is deeply rooted in the will, which I have discussed briefly before. The Oxford Dictionary traces an interesting path in its definition.

…the external world-the mind- mental capacity-emotion of feeling-philosophy-aesthetics-the will-free will-fixed necessity-will, wish, or inclination- inclined or disposed-desire-longing or yearning-inordinate desire-greed…

I would like to try to prove to you that greed is at the root of all sin. 2 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evils…” Is that not greed? Not only the love of money but also the love of anything more than God, is greed.

Let’s start in the Garden of Eden with the “first sin.” Eve looked at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. She wanted it more than her relationship with God, and she ate it. Greed. Next let’s look at each of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. We all know these by heart right? First, “you shall have no other gods before me.” If we put anything in our lives, whether it be possessions, food, or money, before God, it is greed. Second, “you shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” If we make any images to worship instead of God, it is greed. Third, “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…” If we use the holy name of God flippantly and for our own purposes, it is greed. Fourth, “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” If we use time that has been set apart for the worship of God for our own pleasure, it is greed. We should find pleasure in worshipping our great Creator by giving Him our time on this one day of the week. Fifth, “honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” If we take advantage of our parents and disrespect them, it is greed. Sixth, “you shall not kill.” If you take someone else’s life, it is obviously greed. Seventh, “you shall not commit adultery.” If you have sex with someone that does not belong to you (i.e. marriage), it is greed. Eighth, “you shall not steal.” If you take something that belongs to someone else, it is greed. Ninth, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” If you use someone else for your gain, it is greed. Last, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” GREED.

This is very interesting, indeed. As we learned earlier, greed is directly under the control of our will. I believe that God gave us a will of our own. We can choose to do what we want. We can live for Him or not (see God’s Choir). This is why Jesus told us to pray like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Jesus follows this in Matthew 6:20 by saying, “For where your treasusre is, there will your heart be also.” If we are greedy, our heart is not with Jesus. He asks us to “take up your cross and follow me.” How can we do this if we are serving our own selfish desires? “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Jesus asks only that we follow him. Sin is “missing the mark.” We cannot hit the target and be like Christ, in the image of God, if we are being greedy, selfish people and living only for the pleasure of the moment. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

This doesn’t mean that we can’t dress ourselves nice and eat well, but this should not be our number one concern. Everything that we do, we do for the glory of God. If we eat, it is to the glory of God. If we put on our favorite shoes, it is for the glory of God. If we fast, it is for the glory of God. If we only have ugly tennis shoes, we wear them for the glory of God. We do not do anything for personal gain or attention.

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

The Greek word for pure is katharos. This can mean physically pure, levitically pure, or ethically pure: “free from corrupt desire, from sin and guilt, free from every admixture of what is false, sincere or genuine, blameless, innocent, unstained with the guilt of anything.” (blueletterbible.org) We should do our best to be “pure in heart.” This is referring not only to clean thoughts but also clean actions. Ethically and physically. This is what living like Christ looks like.

Not our will but Yours be done.

The Languages of the Bible (History of the Bible, part 3)

Hebrew…Aramaic…Greek…Latin…English….The Bible has been passed down through 2,000 years of different languages, traditions,  and cultures. How do we know that what was written by Moses and Paul is the same thing that we read today?

We have discussed the materials and methods involved in the writing process of the Bible. Next we will talk about the languages of the Bible. The language of the Old Testament is Ancient Hebrew. We have no original manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, only copies of them. Before the Hebrew Bible was written, it was carried down by oral tradition. Even after they had copies of the Law and the Prophets, good Jewish boys were expected to memorize most of the TaNaK (Torah, Nevi’im Ketuvim, the Hebrew Bible). The Hebrew language is full of figures of speech. Some of these do not translate right into English, and must either be misunderstood or translated into an English figure of speech. For example, in English we would say, “I’ll keep an eye out for you.” Of course we are not speaking literally of popping one of our eyes out for someone. We are awaiting their arrival. Hebrew, along with every other language, does the same thing.

For example, in Proverbs 24:20, “his lamp will go out” means he will die. In Jeremiah 15:16, “eat” means understand.  The Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, and the Apocrypha were written in Greek, but used common Hebrew figures of speech. This is because these books had primarily a Hebrew audience even living in a Greek world.

Because Jews who knew Hebraisms wrote the New Testament, we also find Hebrew idioms written in the Greek New Testament. There were also native Greek speakers who contributed to the New Testament, Luke, who is believed to be a Greek doctor, and Paul, being a Jew and Roman citizen, would have spoken Greek and Hebrew. In addition to Greek and Hebrew in Scripture, we know that Jesus spoke Aramaic, which was the intercultural language spoken by both Jews and Greeks. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? These are the Aramaic words of Jesus as He was dying on the cross.

The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, which is a little bit different than Classical and Modern Greek. The New Testament is also full of Greek figures of speech. For example, in Romans 6:2, “May it not be” should be translated more like “No! Never!” It is the strongest possible negative. Another awkward example is in 2 John 1:12, “and speak mouth to mouth.” If we translate this word for word into English, we will miss the meaning of the text. It means to speak face to face. I have only covered a few examples of these figures of speech. E. W. Bullinger has compiled a list of every known figure of speech in the Old and New Testaments in his book, Figures of Speech. This is a very extensive list that is broken down into different types of speech: metaphor, metonymy, ellipsis, etc.

It is important to know the languages that the Bible was written in if we want to better understand the history and the message of the Bible. We should not expect Hebrew and Greek to translate seamlessly into English, but we can study to make ourselves more aware of the differences.

 

 

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