Transmitting God’s Word
“THE word spoken by Jehovah endures forever.” (1 Pet. 1:25, NW) Due to the fact that none of the original autograph copies of the Bible have come down to us, many critics of the Bible dispute this promise of Jehovah that his Word would endure. What are the facts? Are the various books of the Bible that we have today essentially the same as when first written down by God’s inspired servants? Can we be assured of the Bible’s authenticity? If so, by what means has his Word been transmitted to us?
In the first place let us note that there is an obvious honesty and candor about the Bible that stamps it as truth. Archaeologists tell us that the historical records they uncover seldom if ever contain anything that reflects unfavorably upon the rulers and nations whose history they record. How different the Bible on this very point! From Adam and Eve down to the disciples of Christ Jesus it frankly portrays the failings and sins of individuals and nations, be they friends or foes.
Next note the harmony of its more than thirty-five different writers. Though these were separated by many miles and lived centuries apart, came from many different walks of life and even spoke different languages, they all stress the same theme of the supremacy of Jehovah. Had the Bible been materially corrupted, would we find such honesty, candor and harmony within its covers?
Further, archaeology presents an ever-increasing mountain of evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bible. Nothing has been uncovered to shake the faith of the Christian in the Bible in even the slightest degree. The same is true regarding the record geologists have found in the earth bearing on the creation and the Flood as recorded in the Bible. Could serious interpolations have crept into the Bible record, and yet it have such a flawless record of historical accuracy?
Still stronger evidence is found in the fulfillment of the countless prophecies of both the Hebrew and Christian Greek Scriptures, prophecies fulfilled at Jesus’ first advent and in our day. And then we have the words of Jesus Christ, the greatest man that ever lived, who, all must admit, influenced mankind more for good than any other man that ever lived, and who said concerning God’s Word, “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NW) Are men able to accurately foretell events, and would Jesus Christ have given his stamp of approval on the Hebrew Scriptures as he had them if they had in fact not been as God gave them to the original writers?
Further, we know that through the years, in the first centuries of the Christian era and during the Dark and Middle Ages, God’s Word suffered violence at the hands of its enemies. Copies of the Bible by the thousands, both hand-written and printed, were destroyed; Bible translators, Bible copyists and publishers, and those who merely read the Bible or taught it to others were hounded, imprisoned, tortured and even burned at the stake. Surely preservation of the Bible under such circumstances indicates divine protection; and would God have seen to it that it was preserved had it not in fact been his Word?
FROM MOSES TO MALACHI
While in view of the foregoing we have abundant basis for accepting the Bible as we have it today as being essentially as it was first recorded and therefore the Word of Almighty God Jehovah, it will nevertheless prove strengthening to our faith to learn by just what means that Word has reached us, us who are living in this latter half of the twentieth century of the common era, or some thirty-five centuries removed from Moses. And God has seen to it that, as attacks on the Bible increase, more and more evidence should come to light regarding its authenticity and the manner of transmitting it.
Since Moses is credited with writing the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, “five books,” and he appeared on the scene some 2,500 years after the creation of the first man, from where did Moses obtain his information? While he could have obtained his information by means of direct revelation, as did other inspired writers, the Bible does not indicate that this method was used in his case. Or he could have received his information by means of oral tradition, there being but five links between him and Adam, namely, Methuselah, Shem, Isaac, Levi and Amram; but here again there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that oral tradition served Moses in this matter.
Then how did Moses obtain his information? From written records? Yes, recent archaeological discoveries have furnished conclusive evidence that writing existed before the Flood, and which writing was done on clay tablets. Going right back to mankind’s very beginning and indicating that Adam wrote or possessed written records, is the statement found at Genesis 5:1: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” The term “generations” here used is highly significant. A similar expression is found at Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.” Obviously, inanimate and unintelligent heavens and earth do not beget or generate offspring, and so we find that modern translators render the Hebrew word toledóth, “history,” “story” or “historical origins” instead of “generations” at Genesis 2:4. To be consistent they should have rendered it thus in all the eleven times this expression occurs from Genesis 2:4 to 37:2. The individuals to whom these records are credited as writers or possessors, in addition to Adam, are: Noah, sons of Noah, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau (twice) and Jacob.—See Genesis 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2.
Further, this expression, contrary to the opinion of Bible scholars in general, refers to what has gone before and not to what follows after. This was the style of writing used in Moses’ day and before, being a conclusion known as a “colophon”, which fact has been amply proved by archaeological discoveries. This is further verified by the conclusions Moses used to the sections of the Pentateuch known as Leviticus and Numbers, the one for Leviticus reading: “These were the commands which the LORD gave Moses for the Israelites at Mount Sinai.” (Lev. 27:34; Num. 36:13, AT) Clearly these expressions mark the conclusion of what has gone before and not the introduction of what is to follow. Beginning with Genesis 37:3 this expression is no longer found, indicating that from there on Moses himself composed the record, doubtless getting his information through his father Amram from Joseph’s brother Levi.
After Moses died the holy spirit used other servants of God to continue the sacred record, such men as Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, and on down to Malachi. God commanded Moses to keep the book of the law in the ark of the covenant, which was in the second compartment of the tabernacle, and doubtless that is where subsequent inspired writings were also preserved. (Deut. 31:26; 2 Ki. 22:8) That these writings were preserved through the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of Palestine is apparent from Daniel’s reference to them and from the use of them by Ezra in postexilic times.—Neh. 8:1-3; Dan. 9:2.
It is held that Ezra compiled the books of the Hebrew Scriptures and put them into final form, with perhaps the exception of Nehemiah and Malachi; Ezra, incidentally, being credited with writing the two books of Chronicles in addition to the book bearing his own name. In his day began the making of many copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, so that both the Jews who remained at Babylon and those who were scattered abroad in the provinces might have God’s Word. Today some 1,700 manuscripts, or hand-written copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, are known to be in existence or extant.
COPYING THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
Ezra, who pioneered Scripture copying, was a Levite scribe who had set his heart to know the law of God, to do it and to teach it to others. (Ezra 7:10) He evidently set a very good example, for we find that the scribes who carried on this work after him were most scrupulous in copying the Bible manuscripts. They viewed a mistake with holy terror and considered it a sin to write even a single word from memory. To make certain that nothing was omitted or added, they counted not only the words but the number of individual letters involved. Before and during the time of Christ such scribes were known as the Sopherim; and while these were so fantastically careful not to make any unwitting changes in the text, at times they did let their religious prejudices get the better of them to the extent of making a few changes, such as deliberately substituting “God” or “Lord” for “Jehovah”.
After the Sopherim came the “lords of tradition”, the Masoretes, who not only exercised the greatest care and fidelity in copying, making absolutely no changes, but also made good the harm done by the Sopherim by indicating where the latter had taken liberties with the text. These Masoretes produced what is known as the Masoretic text, on which our present-day copies of the Hebrew Scriptures are based. The oldest of these goes back to A. D. 916, and is known as the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus.
How dependable, how accurate is this Masoretic text? A Bible manuscript, the Dead Sea scroll of Isaiah, discovered in 1947, provides the answer. From its style of writing Bible scholars have dated it as of the second century before Christ. The findings of science’s radiocarbon clock allowed for the same date, it indicating that the linen cloth in which this manuscript was wrapped was 1,900 years old, with a margin of error of 200 years one way or the other. Here then was a copy of the book of Isaiah a thousand years older than the oldest dated Masoretic text known, and yet, aside from minor variations in spelling, it was found to be identical with the accepted Masoretic text.
Do we appreciate what that means? Our copies of Isaiah are the same as the oldest Masoretic texts, which go back about a thousand years. And now we have a manuscript that is a thousand years older than the oldest Masoretic text, and still no appreciable changes. So, two thousand years of transmitting God’s Word and no appreciable changes, no corruptions, no interpolations, no impurities, no liberties taken. Now, is it not reasonable to conclude that if such was the case from 100 B. C. to A. D. 1947 there were also no serious changes made in transmitting it during the some six hundred years prior to that time, thus bringing us back to the time when Isaiah wrote the book in the first place? And if that is found to be true regarding the book of Isaiah, is it not reasonable to conclude that the same is true of the other books of the Hebrew Scriptures? Surely it is.
THE CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURES
The facts regarding the transmitting of the Christian Greek Scriptures parallel those regarding the transmitting of the Hebrew Scriptures. The ones copying these, although not professionals, were to a good degree as careful as were the Hebrew scribes. True, a few errors did creep in, but here again we find that in the main these were negligible. How can we be sure of this? Because just as the recently discovered Dead Sea scroll of Isaiah confirms the accuracy of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures, so the comparatively recent finds of papyrus manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures, written as early as the second century of the Christian era, or within a hundred years after the originals were produced, establish beyond a doubt the accuracy of such vellum manuscripts as the Vatican No. 1209 and the Sinaiticus.
In view of these papyrus finds the outstanding English Bible scholar, the late Sir Frederic Kenyon, was able to say: “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the [Christian Greek] Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.”—The Bible and Archaeology, pages 288, 289.
In recent years spokesmen for the Roman Catholic Church have repeatedly published the claim that she is the one that preserved the Bible. Representative of such claims is the one that appeared in Our Sunday Visitor: “The Bible was the sole possession of Catholics for nearly twelve hundred years. Had it not been carefully preserved by the Catholic Church and had not thousands of manuscript Bibles been copied by hand, the world would not have it today.” What about this claim?
The fact is that not one really old and valuable Bible manuscript was discovered in territories under Vatican domination, not even the Vatican No. 1209. The Catholic Church gained possession of it only in the fifteenth century. Who preserved it until that time? Not the Catholic Church! To the extent that she did preserve copies of the Bible, she did so by keeping them in a dead language so that the common people could not read them! Pope Gregory VII actually thanked God that such was the case. And while it may be true that there were limited editions of the Bible in other languages, the fact remains that until the reformers translated it the common people did not have access to the Bible in their own tongue.
No, not to any religious organization or any group of men, but to Almighty God himself must go the credit for preserving the Bible. And its being transmitted throughout the many centuries with such purity of text furnishes another link in the chain of authenticity proving that the Bible is indeed the Word of the Almighty God, Jehovah, and that it will endure forever.—Isa. 40:8.