How We Got Our Bible -- Part 2: The Canon of Scripture


Last week we covered several introductory concepts to set the stage for this study.   I attempted to build the case of why it is so important that the Bible is the Word of God:

In general terms I dismissed some of the Scriptural criticisms like the ones that say that the stories of Moses are just myths because there was no human writing at the time.   Wrong.   Or that the New Testament was fictional exaggeration of what happened, written a couple hundred years later.   Wrong.   It was clearly written before the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.

And then I argued that the Bible is one supernatural message from God, not really 66 books, and that the Old and New Testament should be understood as one book, not two separate volumes -- one supernatural communication from God to us.   And I talked a little about the evidence that every letter was inspired by God, not just the concepts or even the words, but every letter, as supported by cryptological analysis; not that there are secret messages encoded in the Bible, but that the very structure of the original texts supports that every letter was inspired.

Divine Inspiration of the Originals:

One concept that I did not get to last week that must also be understood, is that the inspiration from God only applies to the autographs: the original texts as written by the penmen that God chose and prepared.   Subsequent transmission by humans is subject to errors and losses.   Man passes on, translates, and copies imperfectly.   So there is introduction of error: (static, noise) in the message.   What we have to do is make sure we hear the signal and ignore the noise, the static that human error has introduced in the message. Much of the confusion about Bible translation has to do with the noise, the error that man has introduced into the various translations.

You may remember that last week I raised the question of something about some kind of canon.   I was not really talking about the military piece, a cannon, with 2 n's; I am talking about a different kind of canon, with one n, because we use this word with regard to the Bible.

The word "canon" comes from the Greek word Kanon which means a ruler or a standard of measurement.   So the fact that something was included in a canon meant that it lived up to the standard; it met the muster; it passed the test; it qualified to be in the collection.

The concept of canon began with the Torah, the five books of Moses.   They were recognized as canonical, or from God, in Mosesí lifetime, by the fact that they placed the Torah in the Ark of the Covenant, as Godís words.   They understood that the Torah was virtually dictated by God.   And last week we argued that God gave it to Moses letter by letter.

†There are two convictions behind the concept of a canon of Godís message:

  1. The words of Scripture are Godís own.   You say, yes but manís culture or style contributed something.   Only in form, not in content.   The second principle is that
  2. Man simply transmitted what he received.   Man was not creative here.   It is sort of like accounting.   Accounting is the only profession where creativity is a punishable offense.   That is also the case with the transmission of Godís words: creativity is not rewarded.

Prophecy and Probabilities:

Over and over, the Old Testament presents itself as Godís own words.  † I ran across a way to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Bible is in fact Godís own words.   Throughout the Old Testament we find specific details and prophesies about the Coming One whom we call the Messiah, centuries in advance.   Not just a few, but hundreds of the details are given:

--all kinds of very bizarre details, some of which were highly unlikely, and several of which seemed to be self- contradictory, like he would be from Galilee and born in Bethlehem.   And of course Jesus fulfills all of these prophesies beyond competent dispute.

The reason that this is important to us in our question, ďIs this really the Word of God?Ē is this:

Here we have all these details about a life that is to be lived centuries later.   And I will prove that the documents existed centuries before Jesus was born; and that the prophesied life is incredibility unlikely by human standards, not the least of which is a virgin birth and a crucifixion which I will come back to.   And yet Jesus fits every one of the prophecies.

I will make the case that only a message from God could have done this.   The fact that Jesus fulfilled all of these details authenticates who Jesus was: The Messiah.   Once you have that authentication, then he, Jesus, the Messiah, authenticates the manuscripts of the Old Testament that were in hand at the time.   That is the best authentication that you can have of those manuscripts.

I will show you that Jesus used the Old Testament, and which version of the Old Testament he used, and that by his use of it he validates it as the Word of God.

Do you see the proof?   † The Old Testament prophecies about Jesus prove that he is the Messiah.   Once you know that he is the Messiah -- (you have to get there first) -- then his use and quotations from the Old Testament validates that it is the Word of God.

The version used in Jesus' Old Testament quotes was the Greek translation, not the original Hebrew.   (We will come back to that).   This turns out to be important.

Just to give you some idea of the magnitude of this proof, according to some analyses, including a book entitled Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy by J. Barton Payne, in the Old Testament there are 8362 predictive verses covering 1817 predictions.   I donít want to over-kill this question, but let me give you an idea of how I as an engineer look at the question.

There are hundreds of separate topics of prophecy about the coming Messiah.  † But taking just 8 of the easiest prophecies, letís look at the probability of someone accidentally fulfilling them.

  1. In Micah 5:2 it says that Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem.   What is the probability of a person being born in Bethlehem, taken at random of all the people ever born?   It is not zero.   A lot of people are born in Bethlehem.   Bethlehem has never been more than about 10,000 people.   There have been billions of people born on earth, so you can roughly calculate it.   If you really calculated it, it is far fewer than 1 in 100,000.   But to keep things simple, I will use 1 in 100,000.   That's 1 in 10 to the 5th power [five zeros].
  2. Zechariah 9:9 says that the Messiah would present himself to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.   That is really a strange way for a king to present himself.   Remember, Jesus deliberately fulfilled that, making special arrangements to do it.    How many kings have ever presented themselves like that?   History has never recorded another time.   So very very few.   But to keep it simple, letís use 1 in 100, really conservative, or 1 in 10 to the 2nd power.
  3. Zechariah 11:12 says that the Messiah will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.   † So how many people in history have been betrayed for 30 pieces of silver?   I donít know.   You would have to know That starts to get very precise, but to keep it simple letís be generous and say 1 in 1000 -- 1 in 10 to the 3rd power.
  4. The next verse tells us where the transaction would take place: in the Temple.   And the money would end up in the hands of a potter.   That is so precise that it is not likely to ever happen.   But letís say 1 in 100,000 -- 1 in 10 to the 3rd power.
  5. Psalm 22:16 tells us that the Messiah is to have wounds in his hands.   How many people are killed with wounds in their hands?   Not many.   But letís say 1 in 1000 -- 1 in 10 to the 3rd power.
  6. Isaiah 53:7 Says that "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth."   How many people charged with a capital crime make no defense?   I think that is very rare.   Letís make it easy: 1 in 1000, although I think it is far fewer.   Thatís 1 in 10 to the 3rd power.
  7. Isaiah 53:9 says that "He died with the wicked, and his grave was with the rich."   What is the probability of dying with the wicked and being buried with the rich?   Probably zero.   But Iím easy, letís say 1 in 100,000.   Thatís 1 in 10 to the 5th power.
  8. And one more: Psalm 22:16 describes him as being crucified.   But this Psalm was written 800 B.C., over 700 years before crucifixion was invented.     The form of capital punishment in Israel was stoning, not crucifixion.   And yet, Psalm 22 reads as if it were dictated by Jesus as he hung on the cross.   David quotes the people making fun of Jesus, and describes a crucifixion in detail.   When this prophesy was given and recorded, crucifixion did not yet exist.

    †But back to the Messiah dying by crucifixion.   How many people have ever been crucified?   Probably a lot less than 1 in 100,000 of all the people that have ever lived.   Thatís 1 in 10 to the 5th power.

So what is the chance of one person fulfilling all eight of these?   To calculate that, you multiply all of the probabilities together, (adding up all the exponents, the powers) and you get, even with the generous probabilities I used: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 -- or 1 in 10 to the 28th,   Now, how many people have ever been on earth?   About 10 to the 11th.   That is probably 1000 times too many.   But to be safe, let's use that number.   So you divide that number into the 10 to the 28 and you get 10 to the 17th.   How big is that number?   It is really big.   Or a chance of 1 in that number is very very small.  

To show you how small:

That is the same probability that one person could have accidentally met the eight prophecies regarding the Messiah.   And we just used 8 of the over 300.   Clearly it is absurd to challenge that Jesus is the Messiah.   And all of these prophecies are in black and white, written and documented in the Septuagint [Greek] translation of the Old Testament, compiled between about 285 and 270 B.C., 300 years before Jesus was born. Four hand-lettered copies of that document still exist today. That is why the Septuagint is so important to you.   It is around today.   When Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, which he did a lot in the New Testament, the Gospel writers, writing in Greek, quoted Jesus' references using the wording in the Septuagint, the Greek translation.   That was Godís role in proving the fact that the Bible is Godís Word.

Man's Role:

But what is manís role?   From the standpoint of form, human writers contributed a lot to Scripture.   They contributed style, they contributed aspects of the culture at the time.   But theologically, from the standpoint of content, the Bible regards human writers as having contributed nothing.

Last week we talked about some of the things that support this case:

The integrity of design is breathtaking -- very sophisticated, done is such a way that Satan cannot block it, or insert false messages without our being able to discover the fraud.

Jesus' Authentication of the Old Testament:

The very best authentication of the Old Testament is by Jesus himself.   Remember the circular proof: the Old Testament proves that Jesus is the Messiah, then Jesus turns around and authenticates the Old Testament.   He tells us that the Torah [the first five books of the Old Testament] was written by Moses.   If you believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, you know who wrote the Torah.   And it was not J, E, Q and so on that some of the liberal seminaries argue.   Moses wrote it.   Jesus said so.   If you know who Jesus is, that problem goes away.   If you donít believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the question of who wrote the Torah is the least of your problems.   The New Testament quotes from the Torah over 165 times.   There are over 200 allusions to the Torah.

One of the most interesting cases of Jesus referencing the Old Testament is the first thing he did after the resurrection: he conducted a 7-mile Bible study on the Old Testament with a couple of followers on the road to Emmaus.   These two guys on a 7 mile hike ran into another guy they did not recognize, and talked about Jesus in the third person.   Jesus asked about this Jesus guy, and told them all about Jesus in the Old Testament.   † The Scripture says in Luke 24:27 - And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Notice, it says all the Scriptures, not just a few favorite passages.   On over 737 different matters, over 300 of these are about the Messiah.   So the body of prophetic Scripture is very substantial.

Should we take the Bible literally?   I recommend that we take it the same way Jesus took it.   † Jesus told us how he took it in Matthew 5:17 - "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

The King James says, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law."

A jot is what we would call an apostrophe, a little mark, [possibly the Hebrew letter yod].   A tittle may be a vowel point or a "serif" or a little hook on some letters.   Jesus said that even the smallest parts of the letters will be fulfilled.  † I call that literal.   Jesus interpreted the Old Testament literally [to the letter].   I recommend that you do, too.


Next week:

I want to talk a little about

Three weeks from now, on February 10, I have asked Dave Westley to fill in for me (while Pat and I are in Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast) to talk about the translation process.   In his case, he was translating from the Greek into a modern native Indian language in Mexico.   But I think it will give you an appreciation of the difficulty of translation.   I also find his experience with this translation very interesting, and something I think you will enjoy.