Texts Today and Yesterday

{Written as a lecture for an old course: "Biblical Backgrounds" and largely unchanged}

- Old testament was written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. New Testament was written in Koine Greek ie the patois greek of the day

- Some greek shows signs of having a heritage in Hebrew or Aramaic. Others shows signs of the text itself, Revelations greek is outlandish in the extreme

- The septuaguinta was a translation of the hebrew as well as the addition of some extra books called the apocrypha

- The quotes of the old testament in the new may be either from hebrew versions or the septuaguinta.

- The original Hebrew version contained no vowels. The language was spoken so the vowels could easily be inferred.

- The Masoretes received the text as successors of the scribes in around 500AD.

- they worked to preserve the text and ensure the accurate handing on of the true meaning.

- they developed a system of vowels for the text called pointing. This consisted of dots and lines placed around the text indicating vowels

- They were in a long line of people concerned with preserving the text.

- As soon as the text got to canon status then it became important to preserve it. cf Mt 5:18

- The Masoretes were important because until the dead sea scrolls were found, most of our texts dated from their work.

- They placed variant readings/interpretations on the margin.

- some words though they completely lost the real vowels eg YHWH

- Yahweh is based on YHWH, Adonai and Elohim

- other vowels they just got wrong.

- no actual changes were ever made to the text they received - too holy??? or just received so passed on in the same way???

- They retained the marginal references by earlier scribes and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure against copy mistakes.

- counted the letters in a page and recorded the middle one for eg

- Despite such care some corruptions have entered the text.

- typo mistakes - repeated words or letters, omitted letters

- marginal references that have entered the text

- lines missed out

- or just plain rewriting of the text

- The new testament has a similar history

- by the mid third century it had been translated into Latin, Syriac and Coptic

- Jerome undertook a revision of the latin bible in 382AD which became the vulgate

- most of the medieval translations were based on the vulgate

- copies of the bible were all written and copied by hand which made them rare in the extreme

- there grew up the idea that only the church should have access to the scriptures

- Because of the wealth of monastic copying there is a great body of copies of the latin vulgate.

- about the middle of the tenth century an Irish priest called Aldred wrote between the lines of Latin text a literal English translation

- This became common - latin/old english interlinears

- It is not until the renaissance and the invention of the printing press that things change

- Wycliffe was a noted bible translater in the 14th century and the first printed edition of the bible was in 1525

- at around the same time was the beginning of the reformation and the interest in providing the scriptures to the common people

- Wycliffe was a noted bible translater and bible printer

- One of the first things that the reformers all seemed to do was to begin lecturing on the bible

- Zwingli found that although his lectures on the bible were packed there didn't seem the same enthusiasm for the lectures on Greek and Hebrew.

- Cromwell, during the English reformation actually placed copies of the bible in English in churches so that the common person could come and read them

- St Andrews cathedral, Sydney has a copy of the great bible put in these churches. Worth a look next time you are in Sydney

- King James of the King James version was of course the successor to Elizabeth I

- Remember her and Drake?

- Elizabeth brought peace to the English Reformation often called the Elizabethan Settlement

- James her successor commissioned the translation from the original that became the KJV

- This quickly became the standard English text.

- Other translations were made around the turn of the century - Revised, Darby and Youngs to name a few.

- The Darby version was described by FF Bruce a noted church historian and biblical scholar as the most accurate he has seen

- a criticism of the KJV is the quality of the manuscripts that were used.

- there was a tendency to include rather than exclude variant readings

- Since the beginning of this century there have been a plethora of translations

- RSV, Phillips, Good News for Modern Man, Good News Bible, Revised, NRSV, NKJV, NASB, ASB, JB, NJB, Amplified, Living, NIV etc

- each have different purposes.

- the living bible was written by conservative Americans for family reading - the emphasis is on user friendliness rather than accuracy.

- It is called a paraphrase for that reason - it retells the story in modern words - Saul went into the cave to go to the bathroom... type stuff when we all know that the hebrew says Saul went into the cave to cover his feet

- Amplified version lists all the possibilities of translation

- NIV, NASB both attempt to give a close to literal translation while still being readable

- Revised version is a close to word by word translation

- Good News bible has a reading age of about 8 to 10 years in other words identical to a tabloid newspaper. It has a tendency to add words to be explanatory

- New Jerusalem is a catholic translation and is interesting in that it translates the names of God in the old testament literally.

- There are even cult versions - The new world translation is the Jehovah Witnesses version. Interesting in its selective translation of the word Kurios

- It is important that you choose the correct translation for the job.

- You don't do exegesis from either the living bible or the Good News Bible

- you don't use the revised version with ordinary people

- you don't use the harder translations with young people - 13 to 18 because some of them will not have a high reading age

- some adults will also have trouble - you use the right tool for the job


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)

Prophetic Timeline

This timeline was developed to aid in teaching the Biblical Studies course "Prophets"


Date Literary Figure Comment
pre 1500BC   (Patriarchs)  
13th cent trads of Exodus Moses Exodus
  trads of Wilderness    
  trads of Settlement (Joshua) Settlement
c.1200 trads of Judges Deborah Anarchy
c.1020 trads of Samuel (Saul) Monarchy
c.1000-961 J Tradition (David) Golden age
  Psalms used in Temple Nathan  
  Stories of David    
961-922 Proverbial Wisdom (Solomon)  


  (Rehoboam Sth) Divided Kingdom
    (Jeroboam Nth)  
    Ahijah(Nth) Jeroboam's Idolatry
    Man of God (1K13),  
  E Traditions begin    


  (Ahab Nth) Jezebel
    Micaiah ben Imlah  


  (Uzziah Sth)  
c.746   Amos(Nth)  
    Jonah(?) (book later? 2K14)


  Isaiah of Jerusalem c.742-685


  Hosea(Nth) c.740-725




E comes south. Fall of Nth  


JE merger (Hezekiah) Revival


Law Book (Manasseh) Apostasy
  Isaiah Collected    
c.630   Zephaniah  


Law Book Found (Josiah) Revival


  Jeremiah c.626-580






  Ezekiel Fall Jerusalem


{DHist   Fall Jerusalem


{Deuteronomy   Murder Gedaliah
c.550   Daniel(?)  


  (Cyrus) Takes Babylon
    2nd Isaiah  


    Return of Jews


P Traditions Haggai Building temple
    Trito Isaiah  
c.430   Malachi  
c.300   Jonah(?)  
    2nd Zechariah  


Daniel Published    
c.30AD   John Baptist Messiah
c.40AD   Agabus Acts 11&21
c.58AD   Daughters of Phillip Acts 21
  1. 100 - 200 AD Prophecy dies out before growing hierarchy in the Church
  2. Roving Prophets/bands of prophets are give a good welcome as long as they didn't outstay welcome according to the Didache.
  3. Throughout the OT there were bands of prophets - "sons of the prophets"

Leadership transition

{Written as a lecture for an old course: "Biblical Backgrounds" and largely unchanged}

- There are marked changes in leadership structure in the old and new testaments

- The patriarchs were head of households and this leadership structure extended into Egypt

- With Moses the structure changed. He was leader and law maker

- he spoke face to face with God, Unique until Jesus

- At the same time the priest began to have a normative role in the religious life of the people

- they were to be the interface between God and the people.

- they were also the repository of what to do to please God

- The Judges carried on the role of law mediator that Moses began

- they decided disputes between the people

- by divine intervention they also protected and delivered God's people from their oppressors

- Theirs was a very charismatic leadership - God empowered, they were larger than life and they had a following for that reason.

- The last Judge was Samuel - priest prophet and judge, king maker

- Saul forms the link in leadership between the judges and the kings

- He carried on a charismatic leadership - the Israelites flocked to him as leader rather than king

- It seems clear that in early life he continued his normal life despite being king

- In later life he forms a court and starts acting like a king

- In David we begin to the real line of kings

- David is important as the archetypal king. All future kings are compared against David

- the coming messiah is described against the example of David

- David was different from the majority of the kings because he had a great emphasis on God in his life.

- even kings like Hezekiah and Josiah didn't have the sort of personal relationship with God.

- David is described as having a "heart after God"

- his life is a description of a man trying to live with God

- he shows extreme enthusiasm for God, so much so that in at least one case it brings the censure of his wife

- David is unique both in his response to the giving of the kingdom and his response to his sin.

- however the reader should be aware that some of the build up of David may be rose coloured glasses

- It is interesting that the later work of Chronicles omits the Bathsheba incident. This work also glosses over other weaknesses of David

- even so David remains a remarkable man

- as I have said elsewhere the king is important because to a great extent he determined the religious purity of the people

- In the new testament leadership of the church is based in the twelve.

- The leader of the church at that time was James the brother of Jesus

- there is no real explanation of why he was chosen, considering the varied press of the family of Jesus not understanding him, his mother understanding but no mention of the rest, this is a minor puzzle

- Simon-Peter was not the leader, he was given some responsibility to the gentiles but not the leadership

- Matthias who was selected by lot to replace Judas is just a name

- The great name in all this is of course Paul, appointed by God to the gentiles

- This is surprising since the closeness of the apostles to the life and teaching of Jesus remained an important source of authority until well after the canon formed in 4th century AD

- Paul gained his authority very much from his ability.

- He was a pharisee trained under the leading pharisee of the day Gamaliel

- He demonstrated his ability in his work among the gentile churches

- despite this there still remained the worry in his mind that he was teaching the wrong thing.

- a worry that seemed to become concrete when he returned to Jerusalem to sort out issues of the Law and how they applied to gentile converts

- The major mover in all events of the first century church was the Holy Spirit.

- He began the ministry of the church at pentecost Acts 2

- encouraged and supported them under persecution

- underwrote their ministry by miracles

- commissioned and sent them out

- redirected their efforts and removed their bigotry

- but then that is another course...


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material  of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)

All material on this site unless otherwise noted is ©Copyright Single Spoon Ministries.

New Testament Religious Movements

{These are lecture notes prepared for an old course called "Biblical Backgrounds". They are largely unchanged}

- Sadducees were connected with the ruling class of the temple.

- they thus disappeared with the temple in 70AD

- the name is to be related to Zadok the High Priest (HP) installed under Solomon 1K 2:35

- In Ezekiel the Zadokites are to be the priests for the future community (en passim Ez 40-48)

- the Zadokites were instrumental in the reconstruction of the postexilic community

- the Hp line came to an end with the debacle of Jason and Onias during the time of the Seleucids and the beginning of the Maccabaean revolt

- While the HP line ended, there were still Zadokites who controlled the temple

- The Hasmoneans had to strike a deal with them to rule. Some took the deal others left for the desert and the teaching of the teacher of righteousness

- Thus the sadducees consisted of the priestly hierarchy and other aristocracy of Jerusalem.

- because of their backgrounds they were conservative - they had more to lose as opposed to the common people who had only to gain

- They tended to adjust to political reality.

- with the inclusion of Pharisees in the Sanhedrin under Queen Salome their influence declined from total though they continued in majority.

- they held to a strict wording of the Law ie the pentateuch. They refused to admit the oral tradition and letters treasured by the pharisees

- in their ranks they included some scribes - note they held no truck with that angels and demons rubbish or resurrection

- The resurrection was of course a major source of contention between them and the pharisees.

- Jesus fielded the question of the woman with seven husbands - Mk 12:18-27

- Paul used the debate to divide the sanhedrin that was condemming him Acts 23

- The Sadducees were concerned to maintain the Sabbath and avoided the methods of the Pharisees to avoid the obligation

- They were generally subservient to political power and opponents to the Zealots.

- however their power was not extreme because the people would not put up with them if they moved too far from the path of the pharisees

- during the revolt in 70AD they attempted to prevent armed conflict.

- they failed and died


- the word comes from the Heb Peruschim or aram perischaya meaning the separated ones

- they were the holy ones aloof and separate to God

- They grew up in the time of the maccabees. 1Mac 2:42 records a "company of pious Jews, brave men from Israel, none but those who willingly submitted themselves to the law."

- the Chasidim (Hasidim) or pious ones joined the revolt but later left when the hasmoneans drifted away from the pure faith

- Their aim was the true worship and life in accordance with the law.

- their leaving and criticism resulted in bloody conflict with Alexander Jannaeus who crushed the resistance in his normal cruel manner.

- This had a major effect in that the pharisees ceased to attempt change by violence - a major factor in their survival in the 70AD fiasco

- the pharisees formed distinct communities in which they strived for a complete following of the Law, total cultic purity

- they took on the requirements the law placed on the priests - no contact with dead bodies, bodily discharges etc

- cultic washing for purification was also important - hence them washing before each meal Mk 7:3-4 so that they could lift up clean hands in prayer

- Tithing was also a major issue. The tithe was to support the levites. This was not being carefully observed in the time of the new testament

- Non Jews didn't care, and many jews dodged it as one more tax

- this meant that anything bought may not have been tithed by the producer.

- pharisees then tithed not only what they produced but also what they bought to ensure the letter of the law even to mint dill and cummin Mt 23:23ff

- voluntary fasting was carried out on mondays and thursdays even in the heat of the day to show penitence and pray for Israel and its salvation

- Although including some priests, pharisaism was largely a lay movement

- farmers, craftsmen and merchants. Eating together to ensure purity

- as much as possible they would buy and sell to each other so they could be sure of the state of tithe on the goods

- Josephus puts the numbers of pharisees at more than 6000

- considerable influence was maintained even though the small numbers compared with all

- led by the scribes who studied the law of moses and knew their oral traditions

- maintained and honored graves of the prophets

- kept themselves away from those who didn't follow the law

- refered to them as the "people of the land" - scornful

- tax collectors and sinners lowest of low - unheard of for a pious person to mix with them

- tax collectors were the employees of the pagan government. The Romans sold the job to the highest bidder. Most tax collectors wouldn't hesitate to collect more than required if desirable

- since the only way a sinner could be restored was to make restitution. Tax collectors couldn't remember the many many many people defrauded so couldn't be restored

- Law most important part of the Old Testament - ruled the lives of the pharisees

- the law constituted not only the written text but also the regulations that had been handed down orally - the tradition of the elders Mk 7:3

- they used skillful explanations to adapt the law to their own time or to explain them - consider the camel drivers

- effort was made to make the sabbath regulations workable - it could be waived to help someone in danger of death, or in distress.

- the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was a fully developed doctrine differentiating them from the sadducees

- Israel was to purify itself and then the messiah would come and reestablish the kingdom of David

- the pharisees were actively preparing themselves for this messianic age.

- they built a "fence around the law" in order to not commit any offense through oversight

- even beginning the sabbath early.

- even the most pious sin occaisionally - they attempted to build up a surplus of good works to balance these sins

- People strove in prayer and deed and giving alms to lead a life pleasing to God

- This was of course bound for conflict with Jesus who was the friend of taxgatherers and sinners


- AD6 Archelaus was relieved of office - ie a switch to direct roman government

- commanded that all were registered so that tax could be assessed

- response by some jews was indignation and resistance.

- especially so in group of pharisees separated from main body in that they renounced political involvement and because of Zeal for the Law refused to obey the Romans.

- Called the Zealots agreed with the Pharisees in doctrine but not action

- clung to liberty, acknowledged only God as Lord and King

- anyone who acknowledged emperor or paid taxes transgressed the first commandment - ie thou shalt worship the lord thy God alone

- background to the taxes question??? Mark 12:17ff

- wouldn't call emperor Lord - wouldn't wait patiently wished to usher in the messianic age by force

- Judas the Galilean was the founder - "Led a great number of people to revolt" (Acts 5:37)

- other messianic prophets followed who led their followers into the desert to experience the miraculous onset of the endtime

- carried on guerilla warfare from hiding places on eastern slope of hill country of Judea.

- considered by the romans to be bandits and robbers. Romans attempted to stamp them out harshly but generally had difficulties because of catching them

- Zealots were noted for their zeal for the law which gained them a growing following among the general populace of palestine

- Also promoted hostility toward the gentile population and continually caused unrest

- finally called for rebellion and were main movers in the jewish war of 70AD

- The destruction of Jerusalem and the anihilation of the last pockets of resistence signaled the end of the Zealots

- It was not until AD 132 that the Jews again rebelled under Bar Cochba, probably in response to Hadrian's intention to erect a shrine to Jupiter Capitolinus on the ruins of the temple.


- Josephus names another group the essenes

- no mention is made of these in the NT

- Philo of Alexandria gives us detailed accounts though.

- Essenes were a separate religious movement that lived in seclusion

- name probably derives from aramaic Chasajja - the pious ones

- Note the Chasidim arose out of the Maccabaean struggle and were also the source of the pharisees

- they were still stricter in their obedience to the Law - made no concession to every day practice - the Law was the Law was the Law

- according to Josephus and Philo they numbered c4000 and lived in villages and cities in community

- all male membership - marriage avoided

- avoidance of marriage was not ascetic but to avoid uncleaness that could arise from contact with women

- Some groups did marry after testing the woman for three years and after it was ascertained that she could bear children

- sole purpose of marriage was propogation and sex was barred during pregnancy

- All essenes were subject to the requirement to maintain cultural purity of the community

- strong discipline by the leaders over members

- on entry each given a small hoe, apron and white robe. All symbolic of purity.

- The hoe to bury excrement in a foot deep hole, apron to cover the private parts so as not to offend the emanations of God's brilliance the sun and the robe the garment of the pure

- candidates underwent three years probation with several levels of participation in the community

- strict rules about work, meals and speaking were maintained.

- no work was done on the sabath even food preparation - no trips to the toilet either

- heavily involved in the rebellion of 70AD and died there

- some thought that the essenes were in fact linked to the Qumran community.


- everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

- these were in fact the library of the Qumran community that was hidden in caves when the community was threatened presumably by the Romans

- The first discoveries were in 1947 by Bedouins - a series of large jars in a cave containing scrolls

- eleven caves located - best collection of mss from caves 1 and 4

- the scrolls are referenced by cave number and the letter Q ie 1Q or 2Q, first letter in the title and then verse and chapter.

- Near the cave where the first discovery was made, a small mound of ruins was found

- The settlement consisted of a main house with tower - 30 by 37 meters

- a large meeting room also used as a refectory

- potters workshop, writing room and other areas

- water was available from cisterns fed from conduits flowing down the hills

- water was for both drinking and ritual washing

- no living accomadation or sleeping quarters - lived in the caves?

- cave one seems to have been a scroll store house - the scrolls are well prepared for storage

- Cave four had a large number of scrolls but had not been prepared for storage - perhaps the day to day library

- coins found date the community to 134-104BC

- then again from 4BC to AD6 and continued to AD70

- occupied by the Romans 68AD - probably what prompted the storage of the scrolls in preparation for the return of the community when the Romans were defeated.

- Instead they disapeared in the defeat of the jews

- in the eastern part of the community was a cemetary having around 1000 graves

- evidence of agriculture and cattle are also in the area

- The importance of the scrolls lies not in the whacky theories currently being advocated but in the texts of the old testament found and an understanding of one of the currents in Jewish society at the time of Christ

- Copies of Isaiah which are 1000 years older than the previous oldest text to name one

- As well as the biblical texts there were a significant body of writings from the community and related writings


- there were scribes in the pharisees, sadducees, essene and qumran communities.

- originally job of the priest to teach the word of god later scribes took role

- note scribe related to the art of writing and title given to royal officials

- skilled in interpretation of the law and preservation of tradition

- entry into the role was not by birth but by knowledge and skill

- everyone went through a rigorous course of study. A group of students gathering around a famous teacher

- on application the teacher examined the student and decided to accept or reject him

- if accepted was beginning of life long association between the two

- the teacher taught seated and the pupil sat at his feet

- student had to assimilate the abundance of material that was handed down to become familiar enough to apply it

- teaching was by a series of question and counter question - Jesus used the same method

- when the student completed the course the teacher laid hands on him and ordained him - incorporated into the chain of tradition that stretched back to moses

- teachers addressed as Rabbi and wore the long robe of the scholar

"It is told that in the second century AD R. Me'ir once visited a jewish community in Asia-Minor when the time of the Feast of Purim was approaching. Since it was customary to read the scroll of Esther on this day and the Jewish community did not possess a copy of that scroll, the rabbi sat down, transcribed the book of esther from memory and read the scroll aloud" (baylonian Talmud Megillah 18b as quoted in Lohse p 118)

- two prominent rabbis were Hillel and Shamai who founded their own schools identifiable today

- Gamaliel was a prominent rabbi of Hillel's school Acts 5

- he was also supposed to have taught paul Acts 23

Religious movements outside of Judaism

- the jews and the early church lived in a cosmopolitan atmosphere reaking with a variety of religions and gods

- both the roman gods and the greek gods were very pervasive.

- as the church became differentiated from the jews, the test of worship of the emperor became a real problem.

- there were several religions that although not officially recognised were never the less very popular.

- of particular note are the mystery religions that have features in common with the teaching of the church.

- Mithras from Persia had strong following among the Roman soldiers. Others included Osiris and Isis from Egypt, Adonis from Syria and the Phrygian cult of Attis and Cybele

- it was common to equate the deities with each other and belong to multiple communities

- All were welcome and equal - free, slaves, Greeks or foreigners

- the center of the worship of these gods was a reenactment of the fate of the deity

- the rites of the religions were secret to the initiated and those initiated had to be of a certain character - in one case murderers and non greek speakers were excluded

- The deities suffered and died, then persevered to new life

- by partaking in the drama of the death and new life of the deity, the initiate is filled with divine power

- for example Osiris was tricked by Typhon into entering a casket. The casket was immediately sealed and cast into the nile. Isis his sister and consort searches for the body and finds it. Kisses the corpse. Typhon cuts the body into 14 pieces and scatters them. Isis searches and finds them and puts the body together again so that Osiris could enter the world of the dead. Osiris and Isis live together, Osiris ruling the world of the dead.

- in the reenactment the initiates go out weeping searching for the dead Osiris. Then the cry goes up - We have found him.

- the sorrowing is at an end - death is turned to life

- with the similarities it can be seen how threatening this was to the infant church

- a more subtle threat was the philosophies of the time and the embodiement of those philosophies - gnosticism

(based on Lohse and NDB)


- gnosticism delineates a family of heresies that can produce either an ascetic life style or a lifestyle of wild abandon.

- the key to understanding gnosticism is the concept of gnosis - knowledge

- this knowledge is secret knowledge imparted by revelation to the initiates allowed them to find salvation

- Simon Magus is said to be a noted gnostic - his name is certainly given to one sect

- this sect managed to spread from samaria throughout palestine and even to rome

- In this system the divine thought (Ennoia) originally stood alongside the Father as the female principle

- she fell into captivity of demonic powers and migrated from one female body to another until she came to Helen of Tyre

- Helen of Tyre was a prostitute and symbolised the imprisonment of the human soul.

- the most high God himself then had mercy and delivered her

- The coming down of God is most unusual. Gnositicism followed the Greek theory that all matter is evil and that the heavenlies were pure.

- Usually there were one or more layers between God and the world with a complex hierarchy of intermediate beings to buffer God from the world

- Creation tended to be an accident or even a mistake, a plot by some evil influence

- The incarnation was attacked on the basis that the divine would not become flesh which was evil. The sufferings and resurrection were likewise meaningless

- Old Testament was ignored - it had no place the scheme

- sin was something that could be sloughed off with the body, and the church an exclusive club of illuminati

- Because the body was evil, the theology of the sect tended to indicate either strict ascetisism or wild abandon for the same reason

- As you dig into the reason for writing much of the new testament you tend to find gnosticism:

- The colossian heresy - philosophical speculations, astral powers, reverence to angelic intermediaries, food taboos, and ascetic practices Col 2:8-23

- Pastoral epistles denounce preaching of myths 1Tim 1:4ff, and stringent ascetism 1Tim4:3ff, jewish fables Tit 1:14ff, spiritualization of the resurrection 2Tim 2:18, and pernicious moral accompaniments 2Tim 3:5-7 and the whole of gnosis 1Tim 6:20

- refuted in the Johannine epistles - denied christs humanity 1Jn4:3; 2Jn 7, false teachers of gnosis sounding doctrine - the deep things of satan Rev 2:24

- some of the things Corinthian christians were into reflect the lifestyle if not the belief

" It attached itself parasitically to the christianity and took definite shapes feeding on it" (NDB)

- the problem that faced the church with gnosticism was being able to easily tell the difference between the subtle works of the gnostics and the authentic gospel.

- a whole host of spurious works bearing the name of famous apostles, appearing genuine at first look appeared. It is only as the message of these works is analysed that they turn out to be gnostic.

- much effort was spent in identifying and fighting it.


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)

Canon History

{This lecture comes from an old course called "Biblical Backgrounds". It is largely unchanged}

- literal meaning of canon is "measuring instrument" or more to the point "rule of action"

- canon is about God speaking authoritatively to us

- the bible as a whole is canon.

- our theology must arise from the canon as a whole rather than individual passages. eg: heb 6, Rev 3:14ff - totally opposed to each other. Out of their oposition must come the theology

- despite various source theories - JEDP of pentateuch and the source theory of synoptics etc only the final layer is canonical

- ie we delve into the sources (when necessary) to gain insight into the canonical layer - the layer we have in the bible today.

- we delve into the separate theologies of different books/works to gain insight into the theology of the whole. For example in Luke-Acts there is little or no relationship between conversion and the Holy Spirit. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is emphasized as well as his coming at other times. In Paul there is little or no mention of a coming of the Spirit after conversion but a very strong indication that conversion is all about regeneration by the Spirit.

- date of composition of a document, who wrote it doesn't determine place in the canon.

- Hebrews has no known author. Most books, even when claiming an author have no date attached.

- Gospel of John has no named author - closest we come is the disciple that Jesus loved.

- Early church recieved the large part of the Old Testament from the Jews.

- It is clear that the first books to be considered canon - officially or otherwise were the pentateuch.

- note as soon as they got this status then redaction ceased if only because people would notice and scream

- the pentateuch was almost certainly the first to be accepted on this status.

- note the status of canon was really a feeling about the books until 367AD

- Whether you wish to follow the ultra conservative view that Moses wrote them all bar the death passages and a few acretions or the liberal view that the final redactor P finished around 450 BC is irrelevant.

- It is probable that they were accorded unique place by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

- certainly the law book that was read to the returned jews must have been some or all of this.

- this is also the case with the book of the law found in the reigh of Josiah and formed the basis of their revival.

- The prophets - note the historical books  called "the former prophets" were later.

- The prophets supposedly were accepted around 350-300 BC

- the writings - proverbs, Ecclesiastes etc much later around 100BC

- There were two forms of the old testament the greek and the palestinian.

- After the exile, not every Jew returned to palestine. Lots had settled into their own little niche and were doing well

- shortly after the exile, greek culture was completely pervasive.

- Greek was used for everything. This meant that outside of palestine hebrew quickly fell into disuse.

- this is the case today - many jews know just enough hebrew to read the prayers for minyan

- There was a growing need to provide the scriptures in a form that the ordinary person could read.

- hence the greek version the septuaguinta - generally LXX

- means the seventy. According to legend it was translated by seventy two scholars in seventy two days.

- location was Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus.285-246BC

- after the translation, it was read to the community of the jews there to loud applause.

- It is more likely that the pentateuch was translated first and then the other books including the apocrypha were added piecemeal later.

- The greek ranges from indifferent to good. In some places it follows hebrew idiom instead of greek.

- In some places the translators alter the text to suit their audience avoiding anthropomorphisms distateful of alexandrian jews.

- other places repetition is abreviated, has mistakes or even ommitted.

- one of the translators of Jeremiah had a habit of translating words to those of similar sound but completely different meaning.

- The majority of the early church was either gentile or jew that didn't have much hebrew. The early church took the LXX as their bible

- this had important implications for their understanding. some words changed meaning subtley.

- Isaiahs prophecy that the virgin will be with child is an example. The hebrew says young woman, ie not necessarily a virgin: New Dictionary of the Bible (NDB) defines Alma as "a woman of marriageable age who has not yet borne children, though she may be married." p 1312

- the greek translation literally meant virgin

- the other major result was that the apocrypha was included. Essentially the apocrypha was included until the councils that fixed the canon.

- After the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, the sanhedrin was reformed in Jamnia around 90AD.

- Jamnia was to become the centre of jewish society at this time.

- one thing they did was settle on the canon. Essentially they chose the palestinian canon that excluded the books of the apocrypha.

- the split between judaism and the church really dates from about this time.

- the jews went on to add the mishnah - a collection of legal interpretation mainly and then the rest of the talmud

- during the first two centuries the books of the new testament were written.

- the liberals put the last book - (2Tim ???) around 250AD

- of course the conservative position has all books completed before 100AD.

- there were a number of other books that were written that didn't get into the canon

- Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache were both influential books in the life of the church from early second century.

- other books - gospel of peter, gospel of thomas were written with definite gnostic leanings. Jude 9 actually quotes from an Old Testament also ran.

- gnosticism was a definite threat to the church. It could accept any religion and reform it to its own purpose making it very difficult for the church to distinguish.

- a major figure in the formation of the canon was Marcion. He broke with the church in 150 AD. He had the idea that there were two Gods - a loving God of the new testament and a wrathful God of the Old testament.

- the jews had managed to corrupt the bible to the point where it was hard to find out about the good God.

- he proceeded to drastically edit the bible to only produce the good God.

- the apostles were given the gospel but failed to keep it uncorrupted. He turned to Paul the one preacher of the Gospel.

- the result was that he rejected all the old testament and most of the new.

- he retained luke and ten highly edited epistles of Paul.

- with this kind of thing going on the church leaders were under pressure to meet the threat of Marcion on one hand and gnostics on the other.

- hence the canon.

- This began as a series of lists of books or writings that were considered to be helpful.

- as time went on the lists became more and more similar as different books drifted in and out of the lists. Some championed by one leader, others used by another

- The four gospels were included very early on, together with most of the pauline epistles

- by the third century - most books included as we have them now.

- doubt remained about Hebrews, the Jewish epistles and Revelations.

- some uncanonical gospels were also included and some works of the apostolic fathers such as the epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas and the first epistle of clement

- Eusebius a 3rd C church historian describes three types of books:

acknowledged : four gospels,Acts, Epistles of Paul, 1Pet, 1Jn, and (according to some) Revelations

Disputed but known to most: James, Jude, 2Pet, 2&3Jn,

spurious: acts of paul, shepherd of hermas, apocalypse of peter, epistle of barnabas, didache, gospel according to the hebrews and according to others revelations.

- the spurious works, Eusebius suggests, might well be in the second class, disputed, "were it not for the necessity of guarding against deliberate forgeries of Gospels and Acts under the names of Apostles made in strictly heretical interest. As examples of these he names the Gospels of thomas,Peter and Matthias and the acts of andrew and john. These 'ought to be reckoned not even amond the spurious books but shunned as altogether wicked and impious'" (NDB p197)

- For the eastern church the canon was fixed by paschal letter by Athanasius in 367AD. For the west it was set at the council of Carthage in 397AD

- Athanasius listed the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas as material permitted to be read but not canonical.

- it is important to realise that the books were included in the canon for some specific reasons:

- they were to be traced to authentic apostolic teaching

- they were to be useful in the life of the church

- The process leaves us with the feeling that it was not a case of God taking out a big stamp and placing his imprimature on the books but rather the realisation of the church of the inherent testimony of the bible.

- Note at the time that the canon was set, the apocryphal books were left out.

- They slowly floated back in until the reformation when the reformers left them out and the catholics put them in.

- Our position then is that we have this body of books that were accepted by the church in the late 4th century as being authoritative.

- why should we believe them today. Modern critical method has largely destroyed the assumptions those men had about the bible

- besides we had no say in it.

- As we begin to delve into the theology and the themes that are expressed throughout the bible we begin to find that those guys didn't do such a bad job.

- there is material that was perhaps not written when they thought it was but is still speaks to us today.

- that is the characteristic that is important.

- it begs the question in what way is scripture the word of God.

- 2Esdras records the story of Ezra in Babylon complaining that the books of the law had been burnt. God then proceeds to dictate 94 books of the law.

- 70 were sealed up and the final 24 were left for all to read.

- was the bible dictated by God to his people - I don't think so.

- I am sure that if it had been dictated by God then all the little things like the number of animals going into the ark would have lined up - but then maybe not  - My God has a sense of humour.

- Another suggestion was that God played the writers in much the way a musician plays a flute.

- I don't think that is right either.

- I believe that the bible was written by the people of God to express God to their situation.

- the text was picked up over and over again as it was reapplied.

- we are still reapplying it, we are just not adding to the canon

- consider it to be a huge sermon or set of sermons and you come closer to the mark.

- Having said that I must say that if you had a divine finger print kit and dusted the scriptures you would find Gods fingerprints everywhere.

- the truth is that we know the bible is the canon because it acts that way. It is self authenticating - it radiates divine authority. Hence the many stories of people being helped or even saved just through scripture.

Books outside the Canon:

- while the apocrypha is not considered canonical by the protestant church it is considered at various levels of usefulness

- The Catholics consider it to be deutero-canonical - same level of inspiration but admitted at a second level

- The Anglicans and I think the Lutherans enjoin their priests/ministers to read them because of their usefulness spiritually

- other denominations either make the sign of the cross at them or use them as background to the rest of the bible.

- they can be useful devotionally or in bible studies.

- I did a good study a little while ago on Esther - the apocryphal additions added the opportunity to discuss formation, added interest and life etc

- the books of macabees offer a source for the history between the testaments.

- they come from the LXX as said above

- There are twelve books that are considered part of the Apocrypha.

- Note there is a large body of material that is not considered apocryphal called the pseudipigrapha

- 1Esdras - largely parallels the events of chronicles, ezra and nehemiah.

- one major addition is the debate of the three youths

- in this debate, Zerubbabel a guardsman of Darius wins a debate on which is the stronger - wine women or truth - and gets to remind Darius of his obligation to allow the temple to be rebuilt.

- 2Esdras also known as the apocalypse of Ezra.

- some additions and editing by christians.

- it contains a series of seven visions discussing why Zion is being oppressed and what God is going to do about it

- the most interesting thing is the solution to the loss of the books of the law as mentioned above

- Tobit is a pious story of a rigteous hebrew of the northern captivity and this son Tobias.

- Tobit suffers because of his help to the Jews under the reign of Esarhaddon.

- He accidentally gets blinded and has to suffer more shame being supported by his wife

- His son goes on a journey during which he saves a young woman haunted by a demon who kills her husbands on their wedding night and returns with the cure for his fathers blindness

- Judith tells the story of a jewess widow living in Bethulia.

- Bethulia is besieged by Nebuchadrezzer. She goes out to the Assyrians with the excuse of giving away secrets. Entices the general and banqueting alone with him at night manages to behead him

- She takes the head back to the city amid much rejoicing the Assyrians leave.

- pure fiction the NDB comments - highly inaccurrate in details eg - Neb and Assyrians

- There are also apocryphal additions to Daniel. Firstly the prayer of Azariah and the song of the three holy children linked to the story of the furnace

- The story of Susanna who in fighting off the lustful advances of two elders of the people, is accused of adultery. Condemned to death, she is saved when the youthful Daniel intervenes with a retrial that establishes the truth

- Bel and the dragon recounts how Daniel overcomes the mighty dragon worshiped in Babylon

- for killing the dragon he is cast into a lions den for six days.

- while there he is miraculously fed by the prophet Habbakuk transported from Judaea.

- on the seventh day he is released by the King

- additions to Esther consist of the text of some of the decrees by the king, some additional work to fill holes in the story and some melodramatic enhancements.

- scholars are divided as to whether these are additions to the original or the canonical version is a cut down version and this version is a translation.

- I have to note that apart from the decrees, the quality of writing is much less in the apocryphal additions - I have refered to it as Mills and Boone

- The Prayer of Manasses claims to be the prayer uttered by the bad king Manasses on his repentance 2Ch 23:11-19

- The epistle of jeremiah is a typical helenistic-jewish attach on idolatry.

- Baruch was the friend and scribe of Jeremiah - he also gets a book.

- Baruch addresses the exiles offering confession of sins, prayer for forgiveness and prayer for salvation.

- then praises wisdom in the Law

- finally a lament over Jerusalem the hope of return

- Ecclesiasticus is the greek name for the Wisdom of Joshua ben-Sira

- this book is predictable wisdom literature - advice for life

- The wisdom of solomon is another wisdom book of very high standard

- 1Maccabees discusses the struggle of the jews against the seleucids between 175 and 134BC

- the aim is to glorify the family of the maccabees the champion of judaism

- 2Macabees covers a most of the same material but with less accuracy.

- both tend to be incredibly blood thirsty

- as I said for the life of the church it can be useful to make bible study a little different. These books are generally available in the catholic versions.

Battle of the Bible

- Up until c1880, bible seen as a whole - the word of God

- then the rumblings of higher criticism were noticed by the rest of the world.

- The germans had discovered that the methods of literary criticism could be applied to the biblical text with interesting results

- Time of the original liberals - interested in finding the real man Jesus - writing biographies of his life.

- Varying countries discovered the problem at different times and the conservatives began a desparate rear guard action.

- In England this consisted of the lower ranks of the church raising the pastoral issues of the changes

- It was felt that these new techniques and the theology that they resulted in would have grave effect on people's faith

- Since they were the lower ranks of the church they were both accurate and ignored.

- In America the fight centered around Fuller seminary led by Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield

- The fight was higly polemical - slanging matches between the two sides

- The conservatives led by BB issued a pamphlet entitled "The fundamentals"

- this is the origin of the term fundamentalist now a pejorative term used to mean someone of low intellect who mistakenly believes the bible to be word for word from God

- originally meant someone who fought for the traditional fundamentals of the faith.

- Australia, although later to have this problem, also experienced this issue.

- The fight in the methodist church revolved around the introduction of Peakes commentary as required reading for ordinands.

- This was the beginning. The height of the matter is perhaps demonstrated in the findings of I think the second heresy board trying Ted Knoffs - how could they condemn someone on the basis of the confessions or scripture if 60% of the church didn't believe them either.

- The important thing to realise is that at the time of the development of a lot of the underpinning of this method, scientific method meant Darwinism.

- everything evolved and evolution was applied to everything.

- I am happy to say that there is the beginning of a swing back to more conservative theology or a saner view of the bible.

- our theology, ministry and christian life depend on the revelation that God gives us primarily through his word.


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)

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