Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How we got the Old Testament

When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
Exodus 31:18

Last week we started talking about how the Bible came together. It's amazing how little our churches teach us about this extremely important part of our faith. I'm convinced that many Christians think God just dropped the Bible off to us all at once, not unlike how young children used to thing that a stork dropped babies off in a bundle at the front door. The truth is much more complicated but also much more glorious than if God had simply dropped the Bible in our laps. The Bible was written by dozens of authors over 1,500 years as God slowly revealed Himself and His plan of redemption in greater and greater ways. In this regard then we must think about the Bible developing over time into the collection of books that we have today. We must learn to distinguish between God's revelation and His written revelation  however. God has been revealing Himself to us since creation, but written revelation began much later.

Most of us want to think that the creation story was the first part of the Bible to be written, but in actuality this story and the book of Genesis as a whole were not written as the events which they contain happened. Instead, they were written by Moses later in his life. The very first written revelation of God to mankind was actually inscribed by the finger of God on tablets of stone- The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 & 31:18). These tablets were cherished and preserved by being placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:5). It wasn't until later that more writings were added  to them first by Moses (Deuteronomy 31:24-26) and then by his successor Joshua (Joshua 24:26). It is significant for us to note that in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses clearly commands the people not to add or take away from the word of God. Thus, Moses must have believed that he had been called by God to write these books and include them in the Scriptures. Throughout the history of Israel God continued to call prophets to write portions of their visions and their dealings with God and God's dealings with His people. These were understood to be inspired works and were included in the collection of Scripture which continued to grow over time (I Samuel 10:25I Chronicles 29:29, II Chronicles 32:32, Jeremiah 30:2, etc...).

What we don't exactly know, however, is how the people of Israel determined which writings were fit to be considered Scripture and which were not. It is fair to assume that the evidence of the work of the Spirit in the author's life made this task much simpler than it sounds. Consider the prophet Jeremiah for example. He was recognized by all the people as a prophet of the Lord. When he spoke a word from God it came true. The Spirit of God was evident in His life. It was obvious to the people that when Jeremiah said God had told him to say or do something, he could be trusted. Thus, his life and the power of the Spirit in his life bore testimony to the truthfulness of his writings.

The Old Testament collection of Scripture continued to grow until around 435 BC which is when the book of Malachi was completed. After this time prophecy ceased for more than 400 years in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. God was silent. Books were written during this period but they were not and are not Scripture. They were books written by men alone regarding important historical and spiritual events. These books are called the Apocrypha. This is one place where Catholic and Protestant Christians differ. The Apocrypha is included in the Catholic Bible and is treated as Scripture. Protestants however, believe that these books give important historical insight but are not inspired by God. Protestants denied these books inclusion into the Old Testament for several reasons.
  1. The Jews never considered the apocryphal books to be Scripture.
  2. The apocryphal books do not claim to be inspired by God.
  3. Some of the apocryphal books contain heretical teachings which contradict other Scriptures.
  4. The Apocrypha is never, not even once, quoted as Scripture in the New Testament.
Thus, although we do not know exactly how the Old Testament collection of books took shape, we do know where it started and where it ended. In addition, we also have a sense of how the Jewish people may have determined the validity of a book claiming to be inspired by God.

Certainly this post is more instructional than devotional in content, yet even here there are helpful reminders for the believer. First, we are reminded that we know God only because He chooses to reveal Himself to us.  What a great and precious gift the Father gives to His children in showing them more of Himself. Second, as we look at the Old Testament and watch God's plan of redemption unfold we are reminded that none of us could have guessed that this would have come to culmination in Jesus. Jesus is simply too good for us to anticipate. No doubt He is on every page of the Old Testament, but just as God's ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8) so His plan of redemption is beyond our grasp until he chooses to reveal it to us. So too in our own personal walk with the Lord it is often impossible for us to guess where He is leading us, but as we look at His track record we ought to choose to trust our Lord. We ought to follow Him for surely His plan comes to  a more glorious end than even we can guess.

For further reading...
  • Exodus 20- Take a fresh look at the Ten Commandments in their context.
  • Ezekiel 2-3- Check out how serious being called to be a prophet was. Pay special attention to 3:16-21.
  • Jeremiah 1- Jeremiah's call to be a prophet.

*I have leaned heavily on notes from my Systematic Theology I class taken at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky with Dr. Bruce Ware in 2008 and on Robert Saucy's Scripture: It's Power, Authority, and Relevance.

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