HOW THE WORDS OF GOD CAME TO US
The Bible has been the basis of faith of countless people in Christendom. It is the fountainhead of hope and inspiration of those who believe in the Almighty as introduced by the Lord Jesus Christ. However, how are the words of God came to us? The words of God came to us through:
God Revealed His Words in Various Ways and in Various Times
How did God reveal His words to man? God spoke at various times and indifferent ways, as is written in Hebrews 1:1-2:
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;” (Heb. 1:1-2, NKJV)
God revealed his words to men in various times – from the Patriarchal era, to the era of the Prophets and the Christian era. The era of the fathers or patriarchs was from the time of the first man created by God to the beginning of the time of the prophets of ancient Israel. The era of the prophets ended with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was also the beginning of the last dispensation of time, the Christian era. In every dispensation of time mentioned, God spoke to His people in various ways.
God revealed His words through the following:
(1) God Himself spoke to His servants like Adam (Gen. 2:16-17), Noah (Gen. 6:13), and Abraham (Gen. 15:1);
(2) God revealed His words through angels (Gen. 18:1-22);
(3) through dreams (Dan. 7:1; Num. 12:6-8);
(4) through visions (Is. 1:1-2; Rev. 1:9-10);
(5) through miracles (Ex. 3:2-4);
(6) through voice (I Sam. 3:2-10);
(7) God put His words in prophets’ mouths (II Sam. 23:2; Ex. 4:12; Jer. 1:9; Deut. 18:18);
(8) and through inspiration (I Cor. 2:10; II Pet. 1:21)
God Commit His Words to Writing
How the words spoken by God were preserved? Did His words revealed to His servants remained spoken words? God commanded His servants to commit them to writing, as what He commanded Jeremiah the Prophet, one of those whom God entrusted the writing of His words:
“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.” (Jer. 30:2, NIV)
God commanded His commissioned writers to commit His words to writing. What was God’s reason in commanding His servants to commit His words to writing? In order that His words be preserved “for the days to come”:
“Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness.” (Is. 30:8, NIV)
Those written by the commissioned writers tthemselves are called “autographs.” The books written by the inspired writers are commonly called “sacred books.”
God Willed that the Sacred Books be Gathered
The sacred books were collected because this was the will of God. Isaiah 34:16 clearly attest this fact:
“Look in the scroll of the LORD and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.” (Is. 34:16, NIV)
Which books contains the words of God written by His commissioned writers? The apostles called the collection of the sacred books “the Holy Scriptures”:
“And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Tim. 3:15-17, NJKV)
All Scriptures are given by inspiration of God. Thus, the Bible is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instructing us toward salvation. This is what makes the Bible far beyond and above all other books written by men.
The Holy Scriptures are God’s words and not of men. The Bible is God’s words, not because everything in it were spoken by God Himself, but because everything written in it are what God wants to be written and preserved for the days to come. Therefore, when the teachings written in the Bible are taught to us, we should believe that these are God’s words, His will for us to obey.
The gathering of the sacred books were not done after all the sacred books were written. Others believe that there was a gap between the writing and the gathering of the sacred books, that the sacred books were gathered long after they were written. This was not the real case.
After Moses wrote the Torah, he gave the books (the autograph) to the Levites and priests, and these sacred writings were stored in Israel’s sanctuary, alongside the ark of covenant:
“So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.
“So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: "Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you.” (Deut. 31:9, 24-26, NKJV)
Thus, immediately after the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were written, the books were collected and preserved in the sanctuary by priests and Levites. Apparently, this became the custom – after the writing of the sacred book, it was brought to the sanctuary and given to the Levites to be gathered with other sacred books and be preserved.
The Bible clearly attests that after Joshua wrote his bookm it was laid up in the sanctuary:
“Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.” (Jos. 24:26, NKJV)
The Bible states that Samuel’s account of the manner of the kingdom was “laid up before the Lord”:
“Then Samuel explained to the people the behavior of royalty, and wrote it in a book and laid it up before the LORD…” (I Samuel 10:25. NKJV)
In some cases, although it was not the writer himself gave the book to the Levites and priests, but they were certain about the author of the book, or certain that it was the inspired book written by the commissioned writer. The New Testament confirms that the Sacred Writings or the inspired books have been entrusted to the Israelites. In Romans 3:2 this is what the New Testament attests:
“Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” (Romans 3:2, NIV)
According to the Bible, the Israelites have been entrusted with the very words of God. Also in Romans 9:4, this is what is written:
“They are God's people; he made them his sons and revealed his glory to them; he made his covenants with them and gave them the Law; they have the true worship; they have received God's promises.” (Romans 9:4, TEV)
Thus, many religious books were written, but the Israelites know which was rightfully belonging to the Bible, because they were entrusted the very words of God.
In view of the inspiration and divine origin attributed to the Scriptures, it is not surprising to find them described in the literature of the inter-testamental and New Testament periods as “holy”:
“The description is a very common one. We saw on p. 71f. that 2 Maccabees and Alexander Polyhistor describe the Pentateuch, or one of its constituent books, s ‘the holy book’. Two of the early titles of the Pentateuch are ‘the Holy Law’ (Letter of Aristeas and Philo) and ‘the Holy Laws’ (Philo). Similarly, the Old Testament in general is given the titles ‘the Holy Scriptures’ (Philo, New Testament, Josephus, 1 Clement, rabbinical equivalent), ‘the Holy Books’ (1 Maccabees, Alexander Polyhistor, Philo, Josephus), ‘the Holy Records’ (Philo), ‘the Most Holy Oracles’ (Philo) and ‘the Holy Word’ (Philo, Josephus, 1 Clement). It will be seen from this that the expression ‘the holy book’ goes back to the first century BC (2 Maccabees, Alexander Polyhistor), ‘the Holy Law’ to the second century BC (Letter of Aristeas), and the ‘the Holy Books’ to the first century BC (1 Maccabees, Alexander Polyhistor); that the name are used by Palestinian writers and teachers (author of 1 Maccabees, New Testament writers, Josephus, rabbis) as well as by writers of the Dispersion…”1
Because of the “holiness” of the Scriptures, it is but suitable to be kept and used in “holy places”:
“One of the corollaries of the holiness of the Scriptures was that they were especially suitable to be kept and used in holy places. This was recognized by the Therapeutae, whose affinities were Essene, in that they took into their ‘sanctuary’ () none of the general necessities of life but only the Scriptures and other edifying books, and it was recognized by the Pharisees and Sadducees, in that they admitted no books but the Scriptures and items like the priestly and Levitical genealogies into the Jerusalem Temple. Though there were also synagogues in use, the Temple, while it stood, was the holiest place of the nation’s religious life, and the proper home for books publicly recognized as holy.”2
The Sanctuary (later the Temple while it stood) as a holy place, was the proper home for books publicly recognized as holy. The writing and laying-up of books in holy place (in the temple) are very early practices attested in the history of Israel, and paralleled among other neighboring peoples:
“The keeping of holy books in temples was a custom existing amongst the Greeks and Romans, and apparently also existing, as early as the third millennium BC, among the Egyptians. The earliest Israelite examples are those concerning the tables of the Ten Commandments and the Book of Deuteronomy, laid up, respectively, in and beside the ark of the covenant in the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:16,21; 40:20; Deut. 10:1-5; 31:24-26); the record of Joshua’s covenant with the people, written in the copy of the Book of Law at the sanctuary of Sechem (Josh. 24:26); and Samuel’s account of the manner of the kingdom, laid up before the Lord, apparently at the sanctuary of Mizpah (I Sam. 10:25). The transference of the ark, still containing the tables to Solomon’s Temple, when the building was dedicated (I Kings 8:6-9; 2 Chron. 5:7-10), and the finding of the Book of the Law in the Temple in the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8; 23:2, 24; 2 Chron. 34:15, 30), indicate that the custom of keeping sacred writings in the sanctuary continued in the First Temple; and the Second Temple would have been the natural location for the library of the nation’s religious records said to have been gathered together after the Exile by Nehemiah, and for that more certainly assembled after the Antiochene persecution by Judas Maccabaeus (2 Macc. 2:13-15). In the first century AD, when the Second Temple was coming to the end of its history, we have evidence, at which we shall be looking, both from Josephus and from the rabbinical literature, that the Scriptures were laid up there and also that the priestly and Levitical genealogies were compiled and kept there.”3
It is evident in the Bible that after the inspired writers wrote the sacred books, they gave it to the Levites and priests, abd the latter laid the books beside the Ark of Covenant, like what Moses, Joshua, and Samuel did.
It is also evident that when the Solomon’s Temple was build, the temple became the shrine of the holy books. The transference of the ark that still containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments to Solomon’s Temple when the building was dedicated proves that the practice of laying up the holy books in the holy place continued.
Another proof that the holy books were gathered and preserved in the Temple was that David and Solomon knew the Law, and in the reign of Josiah, the Book of the Law was found in the Temple (II Chron. 22:8).
Although the First temple was destroyed in 587 A.D. by Nebuchadnezzar, there are proofs that copies of the Holy Books survived and the Holy Books remained preserved and gathered together. This is what Daniel 9:2 testifies:
“In the first year of his reign I was studying the sacred books and thinking about the seventy years that Jerusalem would be in ruins, according to what the LORD had told the prophet Jeremiah.” (Daniel 9:2, TEV)
The practice of gathering and preserving the sacred books continued even after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, to the first century AD.
“… the custom of keeping sacred writings in the sanctuary continued in the First Temple; and the Second Temple would have been the natural location for the library of the nation’s religious records said to have been gathered together after the Exile by Nehemiah, and for that more certainly assembled after the Antiochene persecution by Judas Maccabaeus (2 Macc. 2:13-15). In the first century AD, when the Second Temple was coming to the end of its history, we have evidence, at which we shall be looking, both from Josephus and from the rabbinical literature, that the Scriptures were laid up there, and also that the priestly and Levitical genealogies were compiled and kept there.”4
Therefore, the gathering of the sacred books started from the very beginning immediately after Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Since then, the sacred books written from time to time were continuously gathered by the Levites and priests, and been preserved in the Temple. Thus, in the time of the Lord Jesus Christ the collection of the Old Testament) and its tripartite divisions had already long existed (Luke 24:44).
The New Testament canon consists of 27 books. The early Christians put these books together. In his book entitled “Brief Introduction to the New Testament,” Adam W. Miller said:
“It is quite well accepted that the first collection of books of the New Testament was that of some of the letters of Paul. Some of the Christians who traveled throughout the Empire were likely familiar with the fact that these letters were in the possession of the various churches, for Paul himself had suggested that the Colossians share their letter with the church at Laodicea. This exchanging and sharing of letters resulted in some churches knowing of the existence of other letters besides what they themselves possessed.
“There seems to be evidence that toward the end of the first century someone conceived the idea of collecting the letters of Paul, having copies made, and circulating them among the churches.
“The next evidence of the collection of books of the New Testament is that of the four Gospels. Justin martyr, who wrote in Rome about A.D. 150, refers to the Gospels as the memoirs of the Apostle. His use of the four Gospels in his writings had led scholars to believe they were circulated together at that time. Since John’s Gospel was not written until near the close of the first century, obviously a collection of the four Gospels was not made until early in the second century.”5
There are evidences that immediately after the books of the New Testament were written, they were copied, circulated throughout the Christendom, and collected. There are evidences that towards the end of the first century there was a movement of collecting the New Testament books.
The early church fathers of the second century, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr, were well acquainted with the 27 books, witnessing to the New Testament canon of 27 books.
However, it should not be mistaken that they were given the divine authority to determine whether the 27 books were genuine or canonical.
“…No church through its councils made the canon of Scripture. No church – by its decrees gave to or pronounced upon the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the New Testament books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves.”6
Lightfoot attests that no church council made the New Testament canon. The authority and canonicity of the 27 books of the New Testament was not derived from any decree or pronouncement of the church, but was inherent in the books themselves. Miller, similarly wrote:
“It has sometimes been assumed that the fixing of the number of books in our canon was the work of the church councils. The fact is that they did not select the books, for the contents of the New Testament were well defined before the various councils took any action with regard to it. A general church council to determine the exact limits of the New Testament has never been called; and no such council has ever acted for or against such a canon. Councils representing certain areas, and district synods, did from time to time pronounce their approval on certain lists, and when they did it was simply giving official approval to what had already come to be accepted by the church under the guidance of the Spirit of God.”7
Therefore, even when the early Church apostatized, the sacred books were still held intact.
The Sacred Bookswere Preserved through Copying and Translation
We no longer have the autographs, but the copies of the autographs. The word “manuscript” comes from Latin and means literally “that which is written with the hand,” although today we may also speak of typewritten manuscripts.
God clearly commanded His servants to make copies of His written words, like when He commanded to make copies of the Law given to Moses:
“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees.” (Deut. 17:18-19, NIV)
God also commanded that His words be observed carefully and be preserved:
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Jos. 1:8, NKJV)
The Bible also recorded that after Israel destroyed the city of Ai, Joshua copied on stones in the presence of the whole nation of Israel the Law of Moses (which Moses himself wrote):
“Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses-an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrifices. There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses, which he had written.” (Jos. 8:30-32, NIV)
This was the reason why in the time of king Josiah of Judah, the Book of Law was found in the house of the Lord (II Kings 22:8). Even upon the return of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, the Scriptures were carefully preserved (Neh. 8:1). Thus, even though we no longer have the autographs, we have the copies that scribes made of te autographs, popularly called the “original manuscripts.”
Since the Hebrew Scriptures were written, they were continuously copied. First by the priests or the temple scribes; then from c. 400 BC to 200 AD, Sopherim, a recognized guild of scribes (Bible-text custodians) in the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, took over the task of copying and preserving the Old Testament; then the Talmudists, from 100 AD to 500 AD; and then followed by the Masoretes c. 500 to 950 AD. The Masoretes were the scholars who gave the final form to the text of the Old Testament.
Even though the Hebrew Old Testament does not have the same number of manuscripts and manuscript fragments as the New Testament does, but the number of its manuscripts and manuscript fragments are still significant, numbering to more than twelve thousand. The largest collection of Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts is the Firkowitch Collection in Leningrad, containing 1,582. The Cairo Geniza preserved 200,000 fragments, 10,000 of which are Biblical texts in Hebrew and Aramaic. The Cairo Geniza manuscripts are scattered over the world. The Qumran Caves preserved hundreds of manuscripts (Dead Sea Scrolls) dating from the third century BC to the first century AD. The Old Testament was also translated into Greek, Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Gothic, Arabian, and other languages.
Since the first century, copies of the New Testament books were made. There are now more than 5,686 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, more than 10,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, and at least 9,300 of other early versions.
Thus, we have more or less 25,000 New Testament manuscripts.
The first printed portion of the Hebrew Bible appeared at Soncino in 1488, a Psalter. The first Greek New Testament to be published in print was Erasmus’ first edition in 1516.
Luther’s New Testament, translated into German from the Greek original, appeared in 1522, to be followed three years later by Tyndale’s New Testament, translated into English from the Greek original. Coverdale’s translation appeared in 1535. The Matthew’s Bible was published in 1537. In 1539, a layman named Richard Taverner produced a version that was actually a revision of Matthew’s Bible. Another revision of Matthew’s Bible was published in the same year, called the “Great Bible.” In 1560, at Geneva, the Geneva Bible was published. The Bishop’s Bible appeared in 1568, and a second edition followed in 1572. In 1582, a Catholic version of New Testament was produced at Rheims, and in 1609-1610, the Old Testament was published in Douai. Both the New and Old Testament were faithfully translated from the Latin Vulgate. In 1611, the Authorized Version was published, also known as King James Version. However, only two years after its publication, a new edition appeared. Other revisions came out in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769.
During the Spanish regime, the Bible was prohibited in the Philippines. However, during the American regime, the Philippines gained freedom of religion. In 1898, the American Bible Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society decided to undergo a project of translating the Bible into the Filipino language. The New Testament in Filipino was published in 1901-1902, and the whole Bible in 1905. A revision came out in 1915 and 1933. This is essentially the version we now have, also known as “Dating Salin.”
Today, the Bible is translated into 2,200 different languages and dialects. Some are dead languages or no longer in use.
God Sent Messengers to Preached His Words
Indeed, the Bible is where the words of God are written. Right understanding of this book brings about spiritual nourishment and enlightenment as underscored by Apostle Paul (cf. II Tim. 3:15-17). Unlike other books on religion, the Holy Scriptures or the Bible is inspired by God. It contains not only moral principles but also the right doctrines that will guide one toward becoming a complete man of God. The only book that will lead man back to his Creator, and will bring men to salvation. For this reason alone, it can be said that it is the “book of books.”
However, there is one thing about the Bible that everyone must understand as attested by one of God’s inspired writers:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began.” (Rom. 16:25, NKJV)
The Bible or the word of God is a “mystery, which was kept secret.” It is no ordinary book, nor an “open book.” The Bible cannot be understood or interpreted by just anybody who can read. This is why the apostle Paul quipped:
“Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (II Tim. 3:7, NKJV)
However, many people have thought that they could understand the Bible by themselves. Thus, the proliferation of numerous self-proclaimed preachers, all claiming to have understood the Bible and trying to outdo one another in persuading people to believe in what they think is the right interpretation of God’s words. Nevertheless, they are “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” How true, indeed! There is only one Bible yet there are so many different and contradictory beliefs and teachings spawned by these preachers. Who, then, can understand the Bible? Our Lord Jesus Christ declared this to His disciples:
“And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables.” (Mk. 4:11, NKJV)
Without being given understanding or revelation, one can never know the mystery of God’s words and can never come to know the truth. This compels us to ask further, “Who, then, is given understanding of God’s words and, therefore, can preach them?” John the Baptist further clarified:
“For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.” (Jn. 3:34, NKJV)
Those sent by God – His inspired messengers – are the ones exclusively given the understanding of His words: they speak God’s words. On the contrary, those who are not sent cannot preach the true gospel. They cannot lead man to the true understanding of God’s words and, eventually, to salvation. Apostle wrote:
“And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15, NKJV)
Only those sent by God can preach His words for to them has been revealed His mystery. Those who are not sent will only lead man to his own destruction. This was emphasized by Apostle Peter in one of his epistles:
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” (II Pt. 3:16, NIV)
Self-proclaimed preachers of the Bible “twist (it) to their own destruction.” The same fate awaits those who have been led astray by their false teachings. From the messenger of the Lord God men should seek instruction:
“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction-because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.” (Malachi 2:7 NIV)
1. Beckwith, Roger. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985. pp. 80-81.
2. Ibid., p. 81.
3. Ibid., p. 82.
5. Adam W. Miller, Brief Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 16-17.
6. Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, pp. 86-87.
7. Miller, p. 19.