The Literature of the Old Testament
1 Peter 1:10-12
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
2 Peter 1:16-21
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
This study will focus upon the first and largest section of the Bible; The Old Testament.
1: The Origination of the Old Testament
The passages in question not only verify the inspiration of the whole Bible, but focus particularly upon prophecy of “old time”, the Old Testament. Therefore the Hebrew Scriptures are a prophecy more sure and more glorious than the spectacle witnessed by Peter when Christ was transfigured. Rome has been guilty of misinterpreting the notable words of 2nd Peter 1:20. They have misused the phrase “private interpretation”. The Sacred Writings were not the product of man’s authorship; the writers were pen-men who recorded what the impulse of the Holy Ghost dictated to them. Therefore they did not fully understand everything they wrote . They actually studied their own writings with a view to comprehending what the Spirit had given to them.
2: The Composition of the Old Testament
The Canon of the Old Testament consists of the 39 Books which are found in the English Bible. The Ancient Jews, however, divided their Scriptures into three sub-sections: the Law; the Prophets, and the Writings. This division of the Old Testament is recognised by Christ who spoke of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). While he did not refer to the third section as the Writings, he did refer to it as the Psalms, most probably because this was the largest book. It is thought that The Writings may have been known by the designation Psalms. Therefore this reference does not merely show that our Lord assented to the three sections but that he recognised a volume containing the same Hebrew Scriptures that we recognise today. By virtue of this three-fold distinction the Hebrew Scriptures were not assembled in the order that we recognise today. The following is the order of the ancient Jewish Scriptures:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
A The Former Prophets – Joshua, Judges, The Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings.
B The Latter Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve – Hosea Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
The Writings or The Hagiographa
A The Poetical Books – The Psalms, Proverbs, Job
B The Megilloth – The Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.
C Historical Books – Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Books of Chronicles.
The following points should be considered in relation to the differences between the order in our English and that of the Hebrew Scriptures:
1: The records of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings are chiefly a testimony to the prophets who brought God’s Word to the people throughout history.
2: The Minor Prophets are known by the designation “The Twelve” which in no way diminishes their authority.
3: Daniel is perceived as an historical book, although he too is a prophet.
4: Ezra and Nehemiah were one book.
The arrangement of the books is not inspired. In this study we follow the order in our English Bible but we must be aware that the old Jewish divisions can assist our understanding of the Old Testament.
3: The Preservation of the Old Testament
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with the exception of Daniel 2:4-7, 28, Ezra 4:8-6, 18, 7:12-26, Jeremiah 10:11 and one word in Genesis 31:47, which were written in Aramaic. In the absence of modern equipment the Hebrew Scriptures were preserved through the work of Scribes. It is clear that the Jews took their duty seriously. Paul described the Jew as being entrusted with the “oracles of God.” From the earliest days the scribe studiously copied God’s Word. Tradition has it, however, that after the exile Ezra gathered all the copies of the Scripture that had been preserved. Subsequently the Scribe became so much more important. In fact the act of copying belonged to the Priest. His spiritual duty to the people involved the preservation of the Oracle.
The following procedures were adopted by the scribes, which highlights their deep reverence for the Word of God:
A Clean animal skins were used to write on and bind the manuscripts.
B Each column contained between 48 and 60 lines.
C The ink was black, made from a special recipe.
D Each word was pronounced as it was recorded.
E The pen was wiped and the body was washed before “Jehovah” was recorded.
F The work was reviewed within 30 days. If 3 pages required correction the entire manuscript was redone.
G Letters, words and paragraphs were counted. If any letters touched each other the document was invalid.
H The documents were stored in sacred places.
I Old and worn documents were ceremonially buried. No manuscript containing God’s Word could be destroyed.
We ought to have a high regard for these scribes who did such an invaluable service which we profit from immeasurably today:
“As Augustine said long ago, these Jewish scribes were the librarians of the Christian Church. In the providence of God they took care of the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures until at length the time was ripe for Christians to make general use of them.”
Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended.
The Hebrew Text, upon which all versions of the English Bible is based, is known as the Masoretic (Traditional) Text. The Masoretes, 6th – 11th Centuries AD, were scribes who took extraordinary care in preserving the Hebrew Text. In particular they preserved the pronunciation of the words. They introduced a system of vowels in the form of points below and above the line. In the previous centuries the vowel sounds were memorised. The Hebrew Alphabet is a language without vowels!! In accordance with their reverence for God’s Word these vowel points were placed above and below the line so as not to interfere with the Divine Revelation.
Christ makes reference to the Hebrew Language in connection with the manner in which God preserves His Word (Matthew 5:18). He clearly attaches importance to the jot, the smallest Hebrew letter and the tittle, the smallest stroke in the language (like the dot on the I).
4: The Subversion of the Old Testament
One of the characteristics of the Protestant Reformation was the interest that the Reformers had in studying the Hebrew Text. Their attitude to the Bible is summed up in Chapter 1 Section 8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
“The Old Testament in Hebrew…and the New Testament in Greek…,being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical…”.
Soon after the Reformation Period, however, Satan motivated scholars to question the authenticity of the Hebrew Text. As a result The Old Testament was brought into what Edward Young called “The Dark Night of Criticism.” Richard Simon (1685), a Roman Catholic Priest, led the charge by asserting that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch in its present form. Subsequent writings in the 18th and 19th Centuries treated the Old Testament as a work of human origin. This so called modern thought ultimately found expression in the theories named after German Scholars known as the Graf-Kuenen-Wellhousen School.
This school was the “antithesis to the historic Christian religion”
(Edward Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament).
It denied that the Jews were chosen by God, and that the Patriarchs were historical figures. It dismembered the Bible by asserting that the Pentateuch was a patchwork of documents penned by unknown authors and by questioning the authenticity of the Psalms of David and the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. This poisonous school of thought found its way into many theological colleges and was responsible for the sharp descent into the liberalism which characterised Protestant denominations in the 20th Centuries. It was the secret acceptance of this theory by many Baptist Pastors in England ,in the late 19th Century that caused C.H. Spurgeon to leave the Baptist Union. This tragic incident broke Spurgeon’s heart and hastened his early death.
5: The Verification of the Old Testament
While many archaeological and literary discoveries have discredited the Modern School, it is the testimony of Christ which verifies the Masoretic Text. The Lord makes reference to the Law originating with Moses on 25-30 occasions. He is also said to spring for the lineage of Abraham and David. He also either quotes David or mentions his name on a dozen occasions. Therefore to deny Moses, the Patriarchs and David is to deny Christ. It is to claim that He was imperfect, that He was not God’s Son, that He did not die an atoning death and that He neither rose again or ascended. If we do not believe the Old Testament we cannot therefore by logic believe the New Testament (Luke 16:31, John 1:17). Therefore we can appreciate why such liberal trends in scholarship led to an erosion of faithful Gospel preaching in Protestant Churches.
6: The Communication in the Old Testament
What then is the substance and theme of Old Testament Inspiration? Every aspect of the Hebrew Scriptures is a long finger pointing forward to Christ (Luke 24:27).
A The history is a record of the nation out of which the Messiah would be born.
B The prophecies foretell a coming deliverer. They commence with the Proto Evangel (Genesis 1:15). They are especially clear in the Psalms and Isaiah. Many of these prophecies relate to a new day when the Gentiles would be gathered into the family of God.
C The types of the Old Testament are valuable metaphors of the Ministry of the Messiah. These types can be divided under three main headings:
The men whose lives illustrate the Messiah; Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and Daniel.
The anointed offices of Prophet, Priest and King, which represent the Mediation of Christ on our behalf.
The various aspects of the Ceremonial Law which reveal the Redemption of Fallen Man, through blood sacrifices and the intercession of the High Priest. This was the only source of relief available from the justice of God’s Law.