- 1 First Lesson – The Books of the Bible
- 1.1 The authors and the duration of the compilation
- 1.2 Oral traditions
- 1.3 The authenticity of the biblical text
- 1.4 The biblical languages
First Lesson – The Books of the Bible
The Bible is a collection of 73 books; it is thus a small library in a single book. This is why it is called “Bible”, of the Greek “To Biblio” which means “the Book”. This word comes from “Byblos”, the ancient Lebanese port where, for the first time, the manuscripts were gathered, no longer in scrolls, but in books. Hence “the Bible” means the Book. The Jews and Christians are known in the Arab world as “the People of the Book” (Ahl el Kitab), those who follow the Bible.
Of the 73 books contained in the Bible, 46 form the books of the Old Covenant (or Old Testament) and 27 of those, the New Covenant. The Jews only recognize the books of the Old Covenant and refuse to consider it “old”, believing that their alliance with God remains valid, in spite of their many treasons denounced by the prophets in the Bible and their refusal to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The prophets, however, had declared this covenant broken already eight centuries before the arrival of Jesus (Isaiah 24,5 / Jeremiah 11,10 & 31,32), proclaiming that God will establish a “New Covenant” (Jeremiah 31,31), revealed in the books of this New Covenant, the Gospels (see Matthew 26,28 and Luke 22,20). The Christians believe in the 46 books of the Old Testament (a Covenant they consider outdated) and in the 27 books of the New Testament, established by the martyrdom of Jesus.
The Bible is thus divided into two large parts: the books of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament. It is important to understand the books of the Old Testament to realize the importance and the need for the New Testament, new in its Spirit and the revelation of the true face of God.
The Old Testament
The 46 books of the Old Testament are divided into 3 groups of books:
- The Historical books:
They tell the story of the creation (the book of Genesis), then of Abraham and the Jews until approximately 130 BC, which means until the beginning of the Roman Empire in the Near-East, particularly in Palestine (see 1 Maccabees 15,15-24).
This group is composed of 21 books.
- The Wisdom books:
These are books of wisdom and high morality. The style is often poetic. They contain councils and prayers springing out spontaneously of a heart inspired by God to teach us on how to address the Creator.
These books are 7.
- The books of the Prophets:
Each one of these books speaks of the prophet of whose name it bears and brings back his words and testimony to us.
They are 18 books.
The New Testament
The 27 books of the New Testament are divided into three groups:
- The 4 Gospels and the book of Acts of the Apostles.
- 21 letters (known as “epistles”, of Latin “epistola”) sent by the Apostles to the first Christians.
- The Book of Revelation.
Each biblical book is divided into chapters and each chapter into verses, the same in all the Bibles and all the translations. This facilitates the references and the location of texts; Example: Genesis 12,3 means chapter 12, verse 3 of the book of Genesis.
The first five historical books have a particular historical importance. They are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Find them in your Bible. The Jews call them “Ha Torah” (the Torah) which means in Hebrew “the Law”. When the Gospels speak of the Law, they are referring to these 5 books (John 1,45). The Christians call them the “Pentateuch”, from the Greek “penta”, which means five and “tevki” which means “scrolls”, because the Bible was formerly written on leather scrolls which the reader unfolds as he goes along.
Example of scroll
Today, thanks to printing, we are able to have a Bible in only one volume and easy to transport. In the past, the books were written manually by specialized scribes. Some Biblical books such as for example the Books of Genesis and Isaiah the prophet, each contained several scrolls which were not easily transportable, and no one could possess all the Holy Scriptures. These were kept in the Temple of Jerusalem and in some synagogues where they were taught, read, consulted and discussed. Some books are very small and hardly fill a page of our modern volumes, but it became a habit in calling them “book” even if they were but one paper (as the book of the prophet Obadiah, the letter of Jude and the last 2 letters of John).
Make an outline of the name of the biblical books to have the structure of the Bible in summary before your eyes. That will help you find and distinguish the books of the New Testament from those of the Old Testament.
The authors and the duration of the compilation
It took 1000 years to write the Bible, from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. Its drafting began towards the Xth century BC and finished about 95 years after J.C. with the Gospel of St John and his Revelation. St John was the last biblical writer.
Having been written over a period of a thousand years, the Bible is the work of several authors whom one calls “the sacred writers”. They come from various social backgrounds: they are priests, kings, prophets, shepherds, Apostles of Christ of whom two were simple fishermen: Peter, who wrote 2 letters, and John, who wrote a Gospel, 3 letters and the Book of Revelation, the last of the biblical books. Luke the evangelist was a doctor, a cultivated and educated man. Some sacred writers are and will remain unknown, like the writers of Genesis, the books of Samuel and Kings, etc…
Before printing was discovered, the Bible was hand written by scribes devoted to this purpose. They were erudite in regards to the biblical texts and religious laws. It was against the scribes who condemned him that Jesus placed his anger. Because they, who had written the Bible, knew about the prophetic texts which announced him; their refusal of his message, announced by the prophets, is thus unjustified and condemns them (Matthew 23).
Apart from the many biblical writers, there is one Author who, along the centuries, has inspired and supervised the biblical work in its entirety: God. It is the divine Spirit which pushed the ensemble of human writers, spread out over a duration of approximately a thousand years, to put in writing all what they knew of God, his apparitions and his manifestations to those men chosen by Him in order to conclude his plan: to make Himself known to all men. These sacred writers were sometimes cultured, like the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and the Apostles Matthew, Paul and Luke, and sometimes simple shepherds and fishermen like the prophet Amos and the Apostles Peter and John. This shows that God does not need a culture person to reveal Himself.
So there were several human authors, but the principal Author is God. Throughout the centuries when the Bible was compiled, God watched over the fulfillment of his plan and putting it in writing to reveal himself to men of all the coming times, to reveal himself to you today and to those who will come after you until the end of humanity on earth. The Spirit of God has been for sacred writers what the muse is to poets, all things considered.
We can see that the biblical writers expressed Divine Revelation with precision and fidelity that evolved over time and experience. There has often been confusion between the Revelation of God and the personal desire of the writer, between what God wanted us to understand and what was understood. It takes great finesse and discernment to grasp the language of God. This requires time, experience and prayer. We must purify our souls and raise ourselves to the intention of God, who goes beyond our overly materialistic nature. Indeed, God says in the Book of Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts… Yes, the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55,8-9).
The more the prophets got familiarized with the language of God, the better they seized the true meaning of his words, his true intentions. God wanted this incomprehension of His Word to be reflected in the biblical text. Thus, after having spoken, for example, of circumcision to Abraham and Moses, God later explains it through the prophet Jeremiah as the need to circumcise (ie to purify) the heart, not the foreskin (Jeremiah 9,25). Only love is capable of purifying the heart.
It is with Jesus that God expressed Himself best: Christ accurately reports the true words and intentions of God. This is why He is called “the Word of God” by the Gospel (John 1,1) and the Qur’an (chapter 3; The Family of Imran,45. See the text “A Look of faith at the Qur’an”). It was he above all who insisted on love (Matthew 19,19) and love which purifies (Luke 7,47).
Jesus, the Word of God par excellence, is the synthesis of the whole biblical message. He is the living and active Bible in us; we must also succeed in introducing Jesus in us, so that He can act in us and with us. It is in order to know and understand Jesus that we must study the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. Then we will realize how to introduce the Spirit of Jesus which is the Spirit of God into our daily life.
Abraham appeared in 2000 BC. The scribes started writing the Bible approximately 1000 years later. But before the drafting of the Bible, how did the story of Abraham pass on to the following generations? Orally: the first community of believers narrated the story by word of mouth, in the family, the stories of the ancestors, how God appeared to Abraham, then to his descendants to distance them from the idols. Along the centuries, the stories passed from father to son. So the events remained alive in people’s minds. However, passing orally from father to son along the centuries, the same narrative was told differently concerning certain details of no importance. What some attributed, for example, to Abraham, others said of his son Isaac.
This gave rise to several “oral traditions”, which slightly differed from each other. You will thus find the same story repeated twice, once attributed to Abraham (Genesis 12,10-20) and another to Isaac (Genesis 26,1-11). In the same way, there are two accounts of the creation in Genesis: the first: Genesis 1,1 to Genesis 2,3 and the second: Genesis 2,4 to Genesis 2,25. You will notice that the manner of creating differs in the two accounts. The man for example, according to the first account, is created after the plants and animals, but is created before them in the second account. The difference between the two accounts is in the mode of creation, but it is always God who is the unique Creator. This is the important message that the Bible wants to convey to us, a message that is still contested today by atheists and materialists who reject all of the divine revelation.
What are the reasons for these different oral traditions?
The most important are:
- The long duration (many centuries) elapsed between the event and its writing makes one forget to whom a specific fact happened: was it with Abraham and his wife (Genesis 20,1-18) or with Isaac and his wife (Genesis 26,1-11)? Some oral traditions attributed it to Abraham and others to Isaac. The editors, later on, not wanting to omit anything, reported the two accounts to satisfy everyone and unite the ranks. We should not see therein as a historical accuracy.
- The multiple narrators.
- The evolution of the mentality of the scribes and believers.
Therefore, there were several oral traditions of which the most important are:
- The “Elohist” tradition where God, in the original Hebraic text, is called “Elohim”.
- The “Yahvist” tradition, where God is called “Yahveh”.
- The “Sacerdotal” tradition, introduced by the priests and the Levites where the rigidity and narrowness of their mentality are observed, as well as their attachment to cult worship. The Book of Levites (Leviticus) is one example.
These oral traditions should not be an embarrassment to you; just take note, so that you have a better understanding of certain differences when you start reading the Bible.
These oral traditions also differed from the North to South of Palestine, the inhabitants being influenced by the mythologies of neighboring countries. So some believed that creation was completed in six days, others thought differently, according to what they had heard from their neighbors in bordering countries. But the Jews all agreed on an essential fact: only one God created everything, and it is this only God who spoke to Abraham. This is the important revelation to safeguard; the form of creation is less than secondary.
It was this revelation of the unique and creator God that distinguished the Jews from the other peoples around them who were, at that time, all polytheists and idolaters.
When, in the Xth century BC, the religious Jews in charge decided to put their History into writing, they included the various oral traditions to protect the unity of the Jewish community. These various oral traditions help us understand the Revelation in spirit, according to the intention of God, not according to the letter or according to human and political interpretations. You will understand that better when you study Genesis.
The authenticity of the biblical text
Since a couple of years now, archaeological discoveries have called into question the historical authenticity of the biblical accounts. According to two Israeli archeologists, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, authors of the book “The Bible Unearthed”* argue: “These are accounts which were knit together from souvenirs, details of ancient customs, legends on the birth of different people of the region”.
Even if names of persons and places quoted in the Bible do not have any archaeological evidence, the fact remains that the biblical text was written by men inspired by God with the aim of elevating their contemporaries spiritually. (*Published by “The Free Press” A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc New York, USA. 2001).
It is up to us to read these texts with discernment and dig out the gold. The prophets themselves, Jeremiah in particular, contemporary of the writing of the Bible, condemns “the lying pen of the scribes!” (Jeremiah 8,8).
How can we be sure that the biblical text we have in our hands today is the original one? Some claim that this text was falsified and that, consequently, we can no longer depend on the Bible.
There are three kinds of evidence for the authenticity of the current biblical text; there is, on the other hand, no evidence of its falsification.
The archaeological evidence
Archaeology unearthed an incalculable number of texts of the Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. No literary work of Antiquity, even post-biblical, has been as faithfully transmitted as the Bible, supported by archaeological evidence. We have so many and such ancient biblical manuscripts that there is no room for doubt about the authenticity of the biblical text.
For the Old Testament
The “Dead Sea” scrolls
The most important archaeological discovery is that of the “Scrolls of Qumran” or of “the Dead Sea” in Palestine. These leather scrolls on which a greater part of the Old Testament is written, were providentially discovered in the caves of the plateau of “Qumran” adjacent to the Dead Sea, in 1947, by a Palestinian shepherd who was looking for his lost goat. He found it in one of the caves whilst stamping his foot on a certain place. After getting closer, he saw under his foot the lid of a jar made of earthenware which contained a leather scroll written in Hebrew. It was the debut of the discovery of many scrolls, thus buried, of various Old Testament Books. They had been hidden underground by a Jewish religious community, the “Essenians”, who lived in Qumran and whose specific mission was the writing and the protection of the biblical texts. These discovered rolls date back to 200 BC.
It was customary to bury documents which they wanted to protect; this custom is mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah who told his secretary: “Take these sealed deeds… and put them in an earthenware pot, so that they may be preserved for a long time.” (Jeremiah 32,14).
The Dead Sea Scrolls are currently at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem; microfilm copies are available in all the world’s large museums. The text of these scrolls is identical to what we have in our Bibles today.
For the New Testament
The Rylands papyrus
The oldest manuscript known as “the Rylands papyrus”, is a small fragment of papyrus from the year 125 AD, after the name of the archaeologist who discovered it. It contains a text of the Gospel of St John 18,31. This reassures us about the authenticity of the text, considering John died around the year 105 AD and that this papyrus only dates back about twenty years after his death.
Another more quantitatively important archaeological discovery is that of the papyri (plural of papyrus) of “Chester Beatty” dating from the 3rd century AD. They contain a greater part of the New Testament. They are preserved in the University of Michigan in the United States.
Excerpt from the “Sinaiticus”
There are still three very old whole copies of the Bible, Old and New Testaments:
- The “Vaticanus”
In Latin. It dates from the IVth century AD. It is in the Vatican museum, from where it derives its name.
- The “Sinaiticus”
In Greek. It also dates from the IVth century AD. It was found by a Russian Prince in the end of the XIXth century in the Greek Orthodox Convent of St. Catherine in Sinai, from where it derives its name. It is in the British Museum.
- The “Alexandrinus”
It dates from the Vth century AD and is in the British Museum.
The text of these three ancient Bibles are the same and identical to those of our modern Bibles.
The logical evidence
- The multiple Christian rites are a guarantee of the authenticity of the biblical text, because they are the same for all.
- The text of the Old Testament is the same for Christians and Jews.
- Some Muslims and Jews claim that the Christians falsified the Bible. Their claims are based on an imposter: the alleged “gospel of Barnabas”. And yet, it is demonstrated that this “gospel” was written in the XVIth century by a Jew “converted” to Christianity, then again to Islam. According to this “gospel”, the Messiah is not Jesus, but Mohammed. This contradicts the Bible and the Qur’an, which both recognize that Jesus is the true Messiah. Therefore, no Christian and no Muslim can believe in the “gospel” of Barnabas without disavowing their faith. Furthermore, let us recall that archaeological discoveries have demonstrated the authenticity of the current biblical text.
- All the biblical scholars recognize the authenticity of the biblical text. Among Muslims, two great scholars: the late sheikh Afghani and the late sheikh Mohammed Abdo (former Mufti of Azhar, Cairo) categorically deny the falsification of the Bible.
Proof of faith
God, who revealed the biblical message, cannot permit that its content be falsified and its prophecies lost, especially those that concern the Messiah.
The biblical languages
The Bible was originally written in two languages: In Hebrew for the Old Testament and in Greek for the New Testament (except the Gospel of Matthew which was written in Aramaic, for it was to the Jews that Matthew addressed his Gospel). The Old Testament was also written in Aramaic by the Jews who were exiled to Babylon (Iraq) in the VIth century BC, and where they learned this language.
The Books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, the international language at that time (see Acts 21,37), like English and French are today.
The “Hebrew” Bible
We call “Hebrew Bible”, what is the original text of the Old Testament in Hebrew. This Bible does not therefore contain the Books of the New Testament, considering that the Jews do not believe in Jesus. It was kept in the Temple of Jerusalem and in the synagogues in the form of scrolls. Biblical translators refer to it as a solid base in their translations of the Old Testament.
The “Greek” Bible
In the 3rd century BC, Jews of the Diaspora (those who lived outside of Palestine) no longer spoke Hebrew and thus, could not read the Hebrew Bible. So those of Alexandria in Egypt asked the Jews of Palestine to send them biblical experts to translate “the Torah, the Books (of Wisdom) and the Prophets” (that is how the Jews named the Bible), from Hebrew into Greek for them. They sent 70 biblical scholars to them. When they arrived to Alexandria, they translated all the biblical books from Hebrew into Greek, adding 5 other books that the Jews of Palestine read in the synagogues and the assemblies, without however acknowledging them as inspired books. So these five books were not part of the “canonical” books, i.e. not recognized officially as inspired by God.
- For the Historical books: Judith and Tobit;
- For the Wisdom books: The Book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus;
- For the books of the Prophets: Baruch;
- Two chapters were also added to the book of Daniel: Daniel 13 and 14.
Later, the two books of the Maccabees were also translated into Greek and added to the precedents already translated, bringing to 7 the number of books translated into Greek and added to the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible. This group of 7 books with chapters 13 and 14 of Daniel are recognized as the Deuterocanonical Books, in which one is free to believe or not.
You will find in the Second Book of Maccabees, the echo of the close ties between the Jews of Palestine and their Egyptian co-religionists, and the invitation made to the latter to obtain the Biblical text: “Greetings to their brothers, the Jews in Egypt, from their brothers, the Jews in Jerusalem, etc… May He (God) open your hearts to his Law (Torah)…” (2 Maccabees 1,1-4) … “Nehemiah founded a library and made a collection of the (biblical) books dealing with the kings and prophets, the writings of David… In the same way, Judas made a complete collection of the books (biblical books of the Old Testament) dispersed in the late war (deportation to Babylon), and these we still have. If you need any of them, send someone to fetch copies for you.” (2 Maccabees 2,13-15). The interest of the Jews of Palestine to those of Egypt was due to the fact that the latter formed the richest and most powerful Jewish group of the Diaspora, like the Jews of America today.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible is known under the name of “the Greek Bible” or “the Bible of the Seventy” because of the 70 Jewish scholars who translated it into Greek. It differs from the Hebrew Bible by the 7 “Deuterocanonical” (not officially recognized) Books which were added. This is the Greek Bible which the Jews of the Diaspora, who did not understand Hebrew, consulted at the time of the Apostles, to verify the words of Paul (Acts 17,2 / 17,11).
The Jews then refused and still refuse today to recognize the 7 Deuterocanonical Books as inspired by God. This is why they are not found in the Hebraic Bible. The Protestants also reject these 7 books and do not introduce them into their bibles. On the other hand, the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain these books.
Therefore, according to whether you find these 7 books or not, you will be able to recognize a Catholic Bible from a Protestant one. These books contain nothing that differs on the doctrinal level between the various denominations. As for the 27 Books of the New Testament, they exist in all Christian Bibles. It is only in the XVI century, after Luther (the founder of Protestantism), that Protestants removed the seven Deuterocanonical Books from their Bible.
The Hebrew Bible, and the Greek Bible of the Seventy, are used as a basis for all biblical translations. When the Books of the New Testament were written, they were added by the Christians to the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Seventy).
The “Latin” Bible (or “Vulgate”)
In the IVth century AD, St Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, which became the international language at that time, and remained so for a long period, a language employed in the religious and scientific worlds (medicine, etc…) Jerome translated it into a popular version (vulgaris) so that ordinary people could understand it. This is why this Bible was known by the name of “the Vulgate”, meaning “The Popular”, accessible to the people. This Latin translation was used a lot and for a long period in the Western religious world, before the Bible was translated into all the languages of the world, since only about a hundred years. Today the Bible is translated into more than 2000 languages. Therefore, the Evangelical Message is currently spread throughout the world. This is a sign of the times predicted by Jesus (Matthew 24,14).
When a Bible mentions that it is translated from the original languages, it means from Hebrew and Greek, not from Latin, which is already a translation from the original Hebrew and Greek. Before buying a Bible, make sure that it is translated from the original languages.