Following The Evidence #46

The story of how we got the English language Bible is, for the most part, the story of the Protestant Reformation which began in the late 14th Century AD with John Wycliffe. Indeed, if we go back more than just one thousand years, there is no language recognizable as “English” that even existed anywhere. Among other things I teach Shakespeare to year 8 students. Many young people today struggle with Shakespearean English, which was the language of the 1611 King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. 400 years can do a lot for a language, because languages evolve as the decades and centuries roll by. Fortunately, New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew are what we call ‘dead languages’. They do not evolve. The Greek spoken today is nothing like the Greek written in the New Testament. Whenever we want to do a modern translation into English (or any other language) we can just go back to the ancient documents and re-translate it. However, the story of the Bible is much older than English translations.

The first recorded instance of God’s Word being written down, was when Moses penned the book of Job and then Genesis. The Lord Himself wrote down, in the form of the Ten Commandments, on stone tablets delivered to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai. Biblical scholars believe this occurred between 1,400 BC and 1,500 BC, about 3,500 years ago. The language used was almost certainly an ancient form of Hebrew, the language of Old Testament believers.

The Old Testament scriptures were written in ancient Hebrew, a language substantially different than the Hebrew of today. These writings were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years on scrolls made of animal skin, usually sheep, but sometimes deer or cow. Animals considered “unclean” by the Jews, such as pigs, were of course, never used to make scrolls.
When the entire Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) is present on a scroll, it is called a “Torah” which means “Instruction.” An entire Torah Scroll, if completely unravelled, is over 50 meters long! As most sheep are only about 1m long, it took an entire flock of sheep to make just one Torah scroll!

The Jewish scribes who painstakingly produced each scroll were perfectionists. If they made even the slightest mistake in copying, such as allowing two letters of a word to touch, they destroyed that entire panel (the last three or four columns of text), and the panel before it, because it had touched the panel with a mistake! While most Christians today would consider this behavior fanatical and even idolatrous (worshipping the scripture, rather than the One who gave it to us), it nevertheless demonstrates the level of faithfulness to accuracy applied to the preservation of God’s Word throughout the first couple of thousand years of Biblical transmission.

Scribes were paid professionals who meticulously copied the Old testament manuscripts. When they were finished, they would count the number of letters in the original and in the copy. If they weren’t the same, they would destroy the copy and start again. The same process would be done for the words. If the numbers differed, they would destroy the copy and start again. Again, if the middle words did not correspond then the copy would be destroyed. This ensured accurate transmission of the scriptures from one century to the next.

No Comments

Post A Comment