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Week One: Old Testament Origins

The Bible: What's it about and where did it come from?  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Origin of the canon of the Old Testament; Understanding the narrow selection of the Protestant canon.

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Where Did the Old Testament come from?

What Old Testament?

The Protestant Canon has 39 books in the Old Testament, corresponding to the 24 books of the Jewish Canon.
Before we start talking about the Old Testament, we need to ask what we mean by the Old Testament. “Testament” is another word for “Covenant”, which we will talk alot about once we start actually looking at the Story of the Bible. But for the Christian, the “Old Testament” is the collection of writings that make up the “Old Covenant”, whereas the “New Testament” is the collection of writings that make up the “New Covenant”. That’s a simplified explanation, and we’ll get more into that later.
But this is the collection of writings that make up the Old Covenant. But,
Do we have the right books? Yes.
Hear me loud and clear - yes. We do. Write that on your paper. We have the right books in our Old Testament. But did you know that if you go to the Catholic church in Aurora, they have several more books in their Old Testament? Or if you go to a Lutheran or Episcopalian Church (not all, but some), they have more books in the Old Testament than you do. Why is that? Why do we have less?

The Protestant Canon

Now, this is a big word, but we’re going to be talking about the “Protestant Canon”. If you are “Protestant”, it essentially means you are not Catholic. The word “Canon”, not “Cannon”, means a ruler or measuring rod. It’s the word we use to refer to the collection of books we call the Bible - it is the ruler, or measuring rod by which we live. Our “canon” is different than a Catholic’s “canon”. We use different sets, different “measuring rods” to mark out our faith and practice.
So here are a few reasons that we have less books in our Old Testament, and why you can be sure that you’re not missing anything by not having the books that a Catholic has in their “bible”.
But here are a few reasons that we have less books in our Old Testament, and why you can be sure that you’re not missing anything by not having the books that a Catholic has in their “bible”.
Reasons we don’t have extra books in the Old Testament:
Because Jesus and the Apostles never used these books the way they did our Old Testament
Because the Early Church didn’t use these books the way they did our Old Testament
Because most ancient “bibles” don’t include these books.
Because they are neither historical, or written by an authority.
Judaism rejected these books.
Christians have recognized this throughout history, though some have argued that we should still include these extra books. One of the major reasons we have the books we have in the Old Testament is that the books we use are the books that Jews have used since before the time of Christ. I mentioned that above, but Judaism, Jews, rejected these books in their Old Testament. So if the Jews before Christ didn’t use these books in their “bible”, Jesus didn’t use these books in His “bible”, and the apostles didn’t use these books in their “bible”, then we shouldn’t either.

Old Testament Origins

So the Old Testament, for us, has 39 books. For the Jew it has 24 books, but the same material, because in English we split some of the books up that are really only one book in most Hebrew writings. Here’s just some quick facts about the Old Testament:
Originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic (similar languages).
We will talk about this a little more in a few weeks when we look at translations.
Written between 1446 B.C. and 400 B.C.
This is something we will look at more in depth when we look at each book of the Bible.
Mostly historical information that had been saved.
A lot of the books in the Old Testament were simply history that was written down. God had an ultimate purpose in the writing of these books, but several of them were simply something that various officials wrote down to preserve information - it would be like going to Marionville city hall and asking to see records about something. But God, in His providence made sure these particular writings stuck around.
Most authors unknown (though we have some pretty good guesses to most).
We don’t know exactly who wrote each of the books of the Old Testament. Some of them we do know, but some we’re not sure. For instance, who do you think wrote the book of Jeremiah? The answer is, we don’t know. In the Old Testament, when someone’s name is attached to a book, particularly a prophet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they wrote it. Now, Jeremiah certainly spoke most of what is written in the book of Jeremiah, but someone else may have written it down. Or he may have - the point is simply that we don’t know, and that’s okay.
No group sat down and decided which books would be in the Old Testament.
The Bible that we have was not regulated - no group sat down and decided which books would be in the Bible. Especially with the Old Testament, what happened is that God inspired these books to be written, and those that He inspired survived and remained in use - that’s one reason that we stick with the Jewish “Canon” of the Old Testament, because we recognize that God kept this group of books, written up to 1000 years apart, in use and in tact, unlike any other book. Did you know that in Islam, at one point, there were some differences in copies of the Quran, and some debate about how it should be organized, and so what happened, is that the upper echelon of Muslim religion collected all the Qurans, burned them all, and then started copying an “official” copy, essentially. It was very tightly controlled.
But by the time of Jesus, the Old Testament was in extremely wide usage in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek - with full translations in each language, and minor differences among them. These were free to be translated, free to be copied, and guess what? The message survived without people sitting down and controlling the process.

Can We Trust It? YES!

So at this point, we may ask, what holds these random books, some written a thousand years apart, together? What makes them useful, and why should we trust them? If there’s just random historical documents, we don’t know who wrote some of them, and it wasn’t regulated, can we trust it? Yes, and here are a few reasons why:
The many copies we have of the Old Testament from around the time of Jesus are essentially the same.
There are some minor differences between the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and some explanatory notes in the Aramaic translation, but there’s no new God, there’s no new patriarch, no different Moses, no “secret” stories that weren’t told. Even in their differences, they’re basically the same.
Because it wasn’t regulated, we don’t have to worry about the integrity of the person regulating it.
Do any of you wonder if Romeo and Juliet is actually the story that Shakespeare wrote down? You don’t do you? Because it was a good story, so people copied it and retold it and passed it down. We don’t question whether the copy we just bought at Barnes and Noble is true to Shakespeare’s intent, because we don’t have any reason to. I don’t know about you, but for me, if someone who didn’t write it is tightly regulating it’s copying, I probably don’t trust it near as much.
Because the Old Testament is consistent with both itself and the New Testament.
You ever heard anyone point out contradictions in the Bible? People try it all the time, but part of the problem, is that people have been doing that for centuries. The reason that these books have stuck around, is that they are consistent - the Old Testament doesn’t contradict itself, and it doesn’t contradict the New Testament. Who here thinks the Bible contradicts itself? You’re free to say so, as long as you do so respectfully. If you think it does, bring examples, and maybe one week, we will take a night and look at supposed “contradictions”.
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