Why History Is Important

Throughout the process of researching, reading, praying, organizing, and writing this history of the Bible for you, I have become more and more convinced of its importance. As I have said many times, it started when a friend of mine asked me a few haunting questions.

Where does the Bible come from? How can we trust it? Why should I believe in Jesus? How can I trust that what Christians say is real if it is based on a book? Can you prove anything in it?

Like I said, these questions have been haunting me. How many people have been turned away from God because Christians could not answer these questions? Too many! Some Christians have a certain arrogance that they know something that everyone else doesn’t know and think that everyone else that doesn’t agree with them is ignorant.

When they are asked those haunting questions, they respond with “the Bible says…” or “I believe…” Yes, it is great that we know what the Bible says, but no one else accepts our beloved Bible as fact! We HAVE to be able to give a record of how the Bible came to be. Let’s face it. If someone told you that they derive all of their beliefs from a book but couldn’t tell you who wrote it or where it came from, you wouldn’t believe them either.

Christians desperately need to be able to have intellectual conversations with non-Christians. We need to be well versed in history, science, and philosophy. You had better believe that non-Christians are. We should be able to give arguments for the existence of God that are not totally dependent on Scripture. We should be able to trace our Holy Scripture back to the very beginning, because they will ask, “Why should I trust you?”

So why should they trust us?

We, the Church, have a profound history. Our Scripture, the Bible, is literally called “The Book” for a reason. Thousands of years of work have gone into writing and preserving the Bible. We have archaeology to prove many, many events in the Old and New Testament. Our theology is based on sound philosophy. We have a faith that has survived through mass persecution and years of political turmoil. We have something worth learning about and worth sharing, if we can but answer the questions that the world throws our way.

 

This project has been trying for me. Many times I became very frustrated because I wasn’t getting my normal amount of views, and frankly, this wasn’t the most thrilling thing to read and write about. However, I do firmly believe that it is CRUCIAL that we know this. You may not think that having a basic understanding of how Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, English, and the rest have influenced the Bible, but it is very useful. The friend that asked me to write this thought that the Bible was found somewhere, because when she asked Christians questions about the Bible’s credibility, they became defensive instead of telling her what she needed to know. Please excuse my ranting for a moment. Sadly, I believe that Christians’ ignorance is the number one cause of people being turned away from the Church. Questions about the historicity of Scripture surface constantly. Instead of working to understand the proper meaning and context of Scripture in conversation with historical facts, Christians have closed themselves off to the intellectual world, claiming that their interpretation of Scripture is the truth.

Many “questionable” events in the Bible can be explained with archaeology and historical documents, but it may require some “out of the box” thinking to put together the pieces of the puzzle. For example, many scholars question the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. There are several “models” of when it could have happened. The “conservative, biblical” view takes the late date of the Exodus, which uses biblical numbers from 1 Kings 6:1, which says that Solomon’s temple was built 480 years after the Exodus. Solomon was supposed to have assumed the throne in 961 BC, which would put the building of the Temple at 959-957 BC. If the number 480 is taken literally, the date of the Exodus would have been 1440 BC, which would be in the middle of the Hyksos period. The Exodus does not make sense in that time frame at all, and this is why people claim that there was no Exodus when talking to people who hold this view. However, there is another view that works in a historical context quite well. We know that the Canaanite conquest was in 1230 BC. Forty years earlier (because of the generation that had to stay in the wilderness) would be the date of the Exodus, 1270 BC. This works really well with what is happening in Egypt at the time. Exodus 12:40-41 says that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years, which would put Joseph in the reign of Ahmose I. Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites were building stone cities for the pharaoh in PiRameses. In 1270, Rameses II was pharaoh and the city of Pithom or Rameses was the capital. The land of Goshen, which was the city where the Israelites lived, was Rameses. This was the only time that the city was called Rameses. There are documents that say the Egyptian police chased escaped slaves during the Ramecide period. The cities they went through on their journey to freedom match the biblical account of the Israelites’ journey to Canaan. Also, the Merneptah Stele claims that Merneptah defeated 4 things: Israel, Gezer, Ashkelon, and Minoam in 1220 BC. The stele makes it clear that Israel is a new settlement while the others are established “lands.” Archaeology of the “Hill Country” in 1220 BC shows that there was continual development of settlements until Israel was an established state.

So, you see. Sometimes the seemingly “biblical” interpretation does not work with history because numbers are often meant to be symbolic. When these symbolic numbers are taken literally, the event cannot be proven. This makes the Bible look like it is full of holes and unable to be trusted. I am not saying that we should not take Scripture literally. Much of it we can, but we should have wisdom in figuring out what to take literally and what to interpret as symbolic. Jewish literature is very symbolic. Certain numbers stand for certain things, like 40 years is one generation, when actually a whole generation could die out in 20 years. I would like to encourage all Christians to have wisdom before making claims that will turn non-Christians away if they don’t have all the facts. I know this can be hard to do. When I started college, I was convinced that I was right about absolutely everything, and my arrogance endangered other people’s views of Scripture.

Don’t be like me! We can use extra-biblical facts to validate Scripture. The Bible contains multiple genres and must be read in multiple ways. Be careful, and try not to jump to conclusions. We have a beautiful faith that has flourished throughout history. We should treat Scripture with respect and never read it out of context.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

I have enjoyed learning and hopefully teaching you all a few new things about the history of the Bible, but I am happy to be moving on to new things. I have big plans for future topics!

 

(My beliefs about the Exodus do not originate with me. I have studied both arguments, and this is the side I have chosen. Research it for yourself!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Materials and Methods (History of the Bible, part 2)

When discussing the history of the Bible, it is important that we all understand the terminology being used. Certain writing materials have certain names that set them apart from the others. Because the Bible was written over thousands of years, these writing materials changed several times. The Old Testament was mainly written onto scrolls made of animal skin. This kind of paper is called parchment, and when the animal is a calf it is called vellum. This parchment was rolled into scrolls and read in worship. Closer to the New Testament times, they used papyri plants and weaved them to make it thick. They squished them to get all of the water out, and let them dry. This writing material is called papyrus, the root word of paper. The papyrus sheets were either rolled into scrolls called a biblion or sewn together into stacks called a codex, similar to modern books. Later, when I reference specific papyrus manuscripts I will refer to them as p#.

Ink was usually made by mixing water with charcoal and some kind of gum as a binder. John actually references pen and ink in 3 John 3:13. Of course, they did not use pen and ink such as we have. Another important factor in the transcription of the Bible is the lighting. As we know, there were no electric light bulbs to illuminate their homes. Everything they did was lightened by the sun or candlelight. Can you imagine writing down God’s Word in a cold or hot room with only the light of a candle or sunlight from a small window? This was an arduous task that would have caused headaches and backaches.

And what if they made a mistake? The only options were to start over completely or to scratch through it and keep going. There was no eraser, and there certainly was no backspace key! The Masoretes, who we will discuss more fully later, were extremely picky about the manuscripts. Mistakes were not easily forgiven, and the accuracy of the Holy Scriptures was of upmost importance.

The Bible was written in three languages, which means three different alphabets, none of which use Roman letter like English. I will be talking about each language individually and in greater detail in the future, but I would like to point out a few things here first. Alphabets were not the first form of language. First was the pictogram, small pictures that stood for entire words instead of just one letter. For example, aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was originally an ox head. It changed throughout the years until now we have the letter A. Each letter has a history such as this. The chart below is a good visual demonstration of the evolution of the alphabet:

 

alphabet evolution

This image is from the Biblical Archeology Society.

Now that you have a beginning knowledge of the materials, methods, and the alphabets used in the transcription of the Bible, we can begin talking about the long journey the Bible has made from Moses to your coffee table. Next, we will discuss the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages and their individual impacts on the Bible.

The main source for this history is The Books and the Parchments by F. F. Bruce. If you wish to read a fuller, more detailed history, I highly recommend this book. It is a bit dense, but not boring!

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The History of the Bible: There and Back Again.

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Have you ever wondered where the Bible came from? Did it fall out of the sky, bound and ready to read in English? Did a crazy man live alone in the woods and come up with it all? No, no, no… None of that! Our Holy Bible has a rich history of how it came to be in three languages with forty different authors and on three different continents! Now, how do we know that it is reliable?

Although mistakes are bound to happen in the tedious translation process, we can trust that it was translated most carefully. In the following chapters, I will take you on a journey from the basic writing materials and methods used in both Ancient Age Israel and Greece; the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages; the division of the Bible and the content; the Hebrew Old Testament; the Apocrypha; the Greek Old Testament; the Greek New Testament; the Early Church and its role in the formation of the Bible; the Latin Vulgate; the English Bible; modern translations; a defense of Jesus Christ; faith and the importance of scripture; a quick look at the Nicene creed; and why the history of the Bible is important in our Christian lives. This will be a process that takes several months to complete. I hope you will bear with me as we both explore the history of the Bible.

Please know that I will not be including every detail, nor will I be creating yet another dense theology-heavy book. I want to make an accurate history that everyone can understand and have access too. I don’t have a seminary degree in Biblical studies or theology (yet), and I am not an expert (yet). However, I can simplify what the top scholars say and make it easier to read, especially for those of you who have hectic schedules.

As a quick teaser to my last chapter, I will tell you in short why it is so important that we know our history. For the same reason that we learn American History and World History in high school, we must know the history of the Bible. (I realize that I have an international audience, but I am going to use American History for my example.) If you walked up to a person from a different country and told them that Abraham Lincoln never tells a lie, should you be surprised that they don’t know who you are talking about, where you got this information, and why they should trust you? I know Honest Abe because of the story of him returning money after taking incorrect change, but someone else might not. Why should they believe that Abe is honest unless you can tell them the story? This also applies to the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is God-breathed, Theopneustos. We make claims based on this belief. If someone has never heard of the Bible before, why should they believe that it has the authority to tell them how they should live? I wouldn’t believe it! We need to be able to explain why we trust the Bible, and this means knowing how it came to be a book.

Now, fasten your seatbelts! Because, here we go!

<a rel=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/”><img alt=”Creative Commons License” style=”border-width:0″ src=”https://i.creativecommons.org/l/by-nc-nd/4.0/88×31.png&#8221; /></a><br /><span xmlns:dct=”http://purl.org/dc/terms/&#8221; href=”http://purl.org/dc/dcmitype/Text&#8221; property=”dct:title” rel=”dct:type”>The History of the Bible: There and Back Again </span> by <a xmlns:cc=”http://creativecommons.org/ns#&#8221; href=”www.onegirlshonestopinion.wordpress.com” property=”cc:attributionName” rel=”cc:attributionURL”>Sara E. Jolley </a> is licensed under a <a rel=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/”>Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License</a>.<br />Based on a work at <a xmlns:dct=”http://purl.org/dc/terms/&#8221; href=”www.wordpress.com” rel=”dct:source”>www.wordpress.com</a>.

I attached a poll, and I would love your feedback as always!

 

 

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