The HEBREW Old Testament


The story began many centuries before Christ.  Scribes, priests, prophets, kings and poets of the Hebrew people kept a record of their history, of how God had moved among them and inspired their hopes and thoughts and dreams.  Because these writings were of such great importance to the people, they were recorded and copied many times.  Generation after generation used the writings in their places of worship, synagogues and homes.


As time went on these sacred writings were gathered into three collections knows as the “Law”, the “Prophets” and the Writings.”  These three collections, especially the third, were not fixed and closed before the Jewish Council of Jamnia (around 95 A.D.).  The Law contained the first five books of our Bible.  The Prophets consisted not only of Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets, but also Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.


The Writings included the great books of poetry, the Psalms, and also Proverbs, Job, Esther, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.


The books of the Old Testament were written on long scrolls made of goatskin, and were copied by the scribes with very great care.  Usually each of the books were written on a separate scroll, though the Law was often inscribed on two large scrolls.  The text was in Hebrew script, written from right to left (a few chapters are written in the Aramaic language). 


The oldest excerpt of the Hebrew Old Testament now known to exist is a scroll of Isaiah.  It was probably written during the second century B.C. and may be very similar to the scroll used by Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth.  It was found in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1947, as others have been since.


The Old Testament in Greek


The Hebrew language was largely confined to Palestine, but long before the time of Christ there were Jewish communities in many parts of the Ancient world.  Due to the conquests of Alexander and his successors, Greek had become the most widely used language.  Thus, in the third century B.C., the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek for the use of these communities.  This Greek translation is called “the Septuagint.”



The GREEK New Testament


The earliest writings of the New Testament that have come down to us are some of the letters of the Apostle Paul, written to individuals of little groups of people in various cities and towns who had come to believe the gospel he preached to them.  These groups were the beginning of the Christian church.  They received these letters and treasured and carefully preserved them.  Soon neighboring groups of believers wanted copies, and thus Paul’s letters began to circulate.  The need to teach new converts and the desire to continue the witness of the first disciples regarding the life and teachings of our Lord also led to the writings of the Gospels.  They provide an invaluable source of information about Jesus and his teachings.  These manuscripts came to be in demand as the churches grew and spread.  Other letters, exhortations, sermons and similar Christian writings came into circulation as well.


The oldest fragment of the New Testament now known is a tiny piece of papyrus written in the second century A.D.  It contains a few words from John 18:31-33, and on the other side words from verses 37 and 38.  A considerable number of papyri of the New Testament and of the Greek text of the Old Testament have been found in the last hundred years.  These written materials from those early days show scholars a great deal about the life of the New Testament world as well as about the early text of the Bible.