By Bill Fisher
Copyright © 2008. Bill Fisher. All Rights Reserved.
Where Did We Get Scripture?
Before I can explain what I believe, I must explain what I believe to be true about Scripture itself. My eldest daughter, Stacie, and her husband, Brian, have been thinking about the question: "Where did we get the Scripture we call The Bible?" This is a good question and deserves to be addressed first. Otherwise, what follows will ring hollow. If, as I wrote in the Preface, I believe Scripture to be the inspired Word of God, what do I mean? That fundamental issue will permeate all the rest of what I believe. At the outset, I refer to an old book, which was compiled from a series of articles written by Henry Gray Graham that appeared in the Catholic Press in 1908-1909 and which were written to demonstrate the origins of the Bible and its ties to the Roman Catholic Church. These articles were written in respect of the 300th anniversary of the King James Bible which was published in 1610. You can read or download this book at:
I also refer to another book, which unfortunately as far as I know cannot be downloaded from the internet, written by Neil R. Lightfoot, who was a professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University when I attended that university. It is entitled, How We Got The Bible, published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has been printed several times, including 1963 and 1988, both of which printings I have a copy. This book is a good basic review of much of what is not included in Graham’s much earlier book. It also gives a point of view from the other side, not the Roman Catholic view. Somewhere between the two perspectives lies the Truth.
Hebrew Scripture (Or Old Testament)
So, I shall begin with my understanding of where we got scripture. First, there is what we call the Old Testament. Obviously, this portion of Scripture was not called the Old Testament at the time of its writing. It was, rather referred to as the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. This is the same Hebrew Scripture that Jesus and the apostles quoted in what we call the New Testament. If we are to be honest about where we got the Bible, we must admit that the Roman Catholic Church deserves a great deal of the credit. As much as some churchmen and churchwomen hate to admit it, there is not much that came down to the modern Christian church that did not first pass through the Roman Catholic Church. A cursory review of church history will reveal that after the church started in Judea, it spread throughout the Mediterranean world during the next 100 years or so, and, by the time of the first church councils, which I will cover later, a kind of consensus had developed as to what constituted the New Testament, and a confirmation of what constituted the Old Testament.
We have very early witnesses of what was accepted at the time of Jesus as the "canon" of the Old Testament. This word, "canon" is the English version of the Greek word kanon and the Hebrew word qaneh. The most basic meaning of these two words is a reed, or measuring rod. Thus the word came to mean the standard or rule by which to measure the writings accepted by the Hebrews and the church as "the Scriptures." The word ultimately was used to refer to the list or index of the books which are received as Holy Scripture.
It is fairly well settled that at least by 100 B.C. the canon of the Old Testament was established. It would have been nice if Jesus or one of the apostles would have listed the writings considered to make up the Old Testament at the time, but they didn’t. About the closest we can come to that is something Jesus said, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Lk. 24:44) This corresponds with how the Jews traditionally referred to the volume of Scripture we call the Old Testament.
Josephus, who lived during the first century after Christ, wrote the oldest known historical account of the life of Jesus outside of the New Testament. Josephus recounted in his writings, including Antiquities of the Jews, the writings then accepted as the Holy Scriptures of the Hebrews. His list contains the same writings we currently have in the Old Testament and none other. Therefore, we can be reasonably certain of what was considered to be the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings during Jesus’ time.
During the third century A.D., another writer confirmed Josephus’ "canon" of the Hebrew Scriptures. Origen, (184-254 A.D.) was one of the most prolific writers of, what has been called, the Early Church Fathers. Origen listed the titles of writings included in Josephus’ "canon" to include all of what we call the Old Testament. Origen’s "canon" agrees exactly with Josephus’ "canon," and both agree with what we have today.
It should be noted at this point that there are books contained in the Roman Catholic Bible that are not included in the King James Bible and those that followed. Those "apocryphal" books are contained between the Old and New Testaments of some Bibles. These apocryphal books were rejected as inspired and authoritative by later churchmen. I will not get bogged down in that debate. Entire books have been written on the subject. I will leave it at this: I have read the apocryphal books and have found nothing in them that added to my understanding of God or His plan for mankind. There is some interesting history contained in them, which is probably mostly true, and there are some quite outlandish tales contained in them. Why do I use the term "outlandish?" I use that term because some of those tales are contradictory of the rest of Scripture. If anyone is interested in what those tales may be, someday, in another writing, I will address them.