The Bible—Our Principal Textbook
1, 2. When did Bible writing begin and end, and what is the extent of the Bible’s circulation?
1 The Bible is our principal textbook in the Theocratic Ministry School, and as ministers of the good news we should be well acquainted with it. We ought to know how it was produced, what it contains and how to use it.
2 Bible writing dates back to the year 1513 B.C.E., when Moses was directed to begin the record. It was late in the first century C.E. when the apostle John finished his writing, thus bringing Bible writing to an end—after about sixteen centuries. Today the Bible is available, in whole or in part, in some 2000 languages. Though few books reach a circulation in the millions, the Bible has been published by the thousands of millions. No other book can equal that record. Of course, the mere writing of a religious book, its preservation for hundreds of years and its esteem by millions do not prove that it is of divine origin. It must bear credentials of Divine Authorship demonstrating that it was inspired by God. A careful examination of the Bible convinces sincere persons that it truly has such credentials.
3, 4. In what form was the Bible originally written, and when was it divided into chapters and verses?
3 Originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the Bible, as we know it, has sixty-six books. The exact number of books is not important (whether certain ones are combined or left separated), nor the particular order in which they follow one another. The books remained as separate rolls long after the Bible canon or catalog of inspired books was closed, and ancient catalogs vary in the order in which the books are listed. What is most important, however, is what books are included. In reality, only those books now in the canon have any solid claim to inspiration. From ancient times efforts to include other writings have been resisted.
4 The Bible was originally written in continuous, unbroken lines of letters. It was not until the ninth century C.E. that any system of dividing sentences by punctuation marks was devised. The main features of our modern system of punctuation began in the fifteenth century C.E. as a result of the introduction of printing. Subdivision of the Bible into chapters and verses (the King James Version has 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses) was not done by the original writers either. This came centuries later. The Masoretes, Jewish scholars, divided the Hebrew Scriptures into verses. Then in the thirteenth century C.E. chapter divisions were added.
5, 6. In what sense is the Bible inspired, and what explains the different styles of writing that it contains?
5 Inspired collection of books. Some forty different individuals served as secretaries of the one great Author to record the inspired Word of Jehovah. “All Scripture is inspired of God,” and this includes the writings of the Christian Greek Scriptures along with “the rest of the Scriptures.” (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) By “inspiration” is meant, not a mere stimulating of the intellect and emotions to a higher degree of accomplishment (as is often said of secular artists or poets), but the production of unerring writings that have the same authority as if written by God himself. God caused his own spirit to become operative on faithful men whom he used to record things at his direction. For this reason the apostle Peter could declare: “Prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21) In at least one case, however, the information was supplied in written form by God himself. This was the Ten Commandments, God giving Moses two “tablets of stone written on by God’s finger.”—Ex. 31:18.
6 In some cases information was transmitted word for word, by verbal direction. (Ex. 34:27) The prophets also were often given specific messages to deliver. (1 Ki. 22:14; Jer. 1:7) The evidence indicates, however, that the men used by God to record the Scriptures did not always simply record dictated material. For example, John received the Revelation through God’s angel “in signs” and John was told: “What you see write in a scroll.” (Rev. 1:1, 2, 10, 11) So, God apparently saw good to allow the Bible writers to select words and expressions to describe the visions they saw, while he always exercised sufficient guidance over them so that the end product was accurate and suited his purpose. (Eccl. 12:10) This doubtless explains the different styles evident in the books of the Bible.
7. Who were some of the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, and what requirements of true prophets did all of them meet?
7 That the writings of Moses were inspired of God there can be no doubt, in the light of internal evidence. It was not Moses’ idea to become the leader of the Israelites. At first Moses drew back at the suggestion. (Ex. 3:10, 11; 4:10-14) Rather, God raised Moses up and gave him miraculous powers. Even magic-practicing priests had to acknowledge that what Moses did originated with God. (Ex. 4:1-9; 8:16-19) In obedience to God’s command and with the divine credentials of holy spirit, Moses was moved first to speak and then to write down part of the Bible. (Ex. 17:14) Following Moses’ death, the writings of Joshua, Samuel, Gad and Nathan (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel) were added. Kings David and Solomon also made contributions to the growing canon of the Holy Writings. Then came the prophets from Jonah to Malachi, each contributing to the Bible canon. And each in turn met the requirements of true prophets as outlined by Jehovah: They spoke in the name of Jehovah, their prophecies came true and they turned the people toward God.—Deut. 13:1-3; 18:20-22.
8. What is the most conclusive proof of the canonicity of the Hebrew Scriptures?
8 Just as Jehovah inspired men to write, it logically follows that he would direct the collecting of these inspired writings. According to Jewish tradition, Ezra had a hand in this work after the exiled Jews were resettled in Judah. He was well qualified for the work, being one of the inspired Bible writers, a priest, and also “a skilled copyist in the law of Moses.” (Ezra 7:1-11) The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was well fixed by the end of the fifth century B.C.E. It contained the same writings that we have today and which are now divided into thirty-nine books. No council of men made them canonical; from their beginning they had divine approval. The most conclusive testimony on the canonicity of the Hebrew Scriptures is the unimpeachable word of Jesus Christ and the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Though they used the inspired Hebrew Scriptures freely, never did they quote from the apocryphal books.—Luke 24:44, 45.
9, 10. What assurance is there that the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures really belong in the Bible canon?
9 The writing and collecting of the twenty-seven books of the Christian Greek Scriptures was similar to that of the Hebrew Scriptures. Christ “gave gifts in men,” yes, “he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers.” (Eph. 4:8, 11-13) With God’s holy spirit upon them they set forth sound doctrine for the Christian congregation. Jesus assured his apostles that God’s spirit would help them, teaching, guiding and recalling to their minds the things they had heard from him, as well as revealing to them future things. (John 14:26; 16:13) This assured the truthfulness and accuracy of their Gospel accounts.
10 The real test of canonicity is not how many times or by what nonapostolic writer a certain book has been quoted. The contents of the book itself must give evidence that it is a product of holy spirit. Consequently, it cannot encourage superstition, demonism or creature worship. It must be in total harmony with the rest of the Bible. Each book must conform to the divine “pattern of healthful words,” and be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. (2 Tim. 1:13) The apostles clearly spoke with divine authority. By holy spirit they had “discernment of inspired utterances” as to whether such were of God or not. (1 Cor. 12:4, 10) With the death of John, the last apostle, this reliable chain of divinely inspired men came to an end. And so with the Revelation, John’s Gospel and his letters, the Bible canon closed. The sixty-six books of our Bible, by their harmony, testify to the oneness of the Bible, and recommend it to us as indeed Jehovah’s word of inspired truth.
11. What information that otherwise would not be available to men is contained in the Bible?
11 Contents. The Bible contains information that otherwise would not be available to men. The Genesis account, for example, provides information about earth’s creation; it gives us knowledge of things that took place before man was on the scene. (Gen. 1:1-31) The Bible also tells us about conversations that took place in the heavens and which no human ears could hear, unless God provided the information.—Job 1:6-12; 1 Ki. 22:19-23.
12, 13. What do we learn about Jehovah and Jesus Christ from the Scriptures?
12 More important, the Bible acquaints us with Jehovah. It relates details of miraculous visions of Jehovah with which his servants were favored. (Dan. 7:9, 10) Also the Bible acquaints us with God’s name “Jehovah,” which name occurs more than 6,800 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Bible we learn of Jehovah’s outstanding qualities, such as love, wisdom, justice, mercy, long-suffering, generosity, perfection in knowledge, changelessness. (Ex. 34:6, 7) Furthermore, the Bible tells us much about God’s Son and the important place that he occupies in God’s purpose. (Col. 1:17, 18; 2:3; 2 Cor. 1:20) More than any others, the Son of God, when on earth, was able to enlarge our acquaintanceship with Jehovah. For he was able to say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.”—John 14:9.
13 Details as to the development of God’s purpose are revealed in the Bible. All of the foretold blessings for obedient man were centered in a promised Savior whom Jehovah would raise up. He was described in the Garden of Eden by God as the “seed” of God’s woman. (Gen. 3:15) In time God promised that this Seed would come through Abraham. (Gen. 22:18) He showed that the promised Savior would be an everlasting king and priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek!” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:1-28) He gave the law covenant to Israel with its priesthood and sacrifices, all of which were a “shadow of the good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1; Col. 2:17) To David promise was made that the kingship would everlastingly remain in his family. (2 Sam. 7:11-16) And the heir of that promise, as well as the one to whom all the other prophecies pointed as the Deliverer, is shown to be Jesus Christ. Yes, throughout its pages the Bible focuses on the theme of the inspired writings—the kingdom of God in the hands of Jesus Christ as the means that Jehovah has provided for carrying out His purpose.
14-17. Why are Bible prophecy and Bible counsel on morals of great value to all of us?
14 As a book of prophecy, the Bible is outstanding. Thus it gives significance to events of history and shows why they turned out as they did. (Luke 19:41-44) It shows the future of all present worldly governments. (Dan. 2:44) It explains events of our days, showing that we live in the foretold time of the end of this old system and that soon God will clear out all the wicked.—2 Tim. 3:1-5; Ps. 37:9, 10.
15 Without the Bible we would not know the real purpose of life. (Eccl. 12:13) It makes clear that man is not a product of blind chance, but a creation of God, who has a loving purpose for mankind. And it explains what God’s will is for us now and how we can find real satisfaction in life.—Rev. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:3, 4; Ps. 16:11.
16 Human history demonstrates that man, apart from God, cannot successfully direct his steps. Only the Bible provides the guidance that he needs. It gives guidance regarding morals, showing what God condemns and what he approves. (Gal. 5:19-23) It proves to be a most practical help amid a world that has thrown off moral restraint. It helps us to get the viewpoint of God and to be pleasing to him. And it shows us the way to eternal life in God’s new world.—John 17:3.
17 Is it not obvious why this Book of books should be our primary textbook for study? Christians, above all, are keenly concerned about investigating this Book that is authored by the One to whom God’s Son said: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) The Bible, therefore, assumes first place in the study course of the Theocratic Ministry School.