Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Bible, Its Origin And History

To take such a title as the subject for an address almost frightens one, and especially when we consider the time at our disposal. It must needs be condensed and this is somewhat difficult to do. I hope, therefore, you will pardon me if there is anything lacking as the result of those limitations. It has been impressed upon my mind that certain things in connection with God’s Truth cannot be separated. A knowledge of history is desirable yet the Bible in itself is history.

Even in our present day there are happening certain events which point to the fulfillment of His Word. God is working out the counsel of His Will, so that in considering the Truth of God we cannot separate the secular side and that which is connected with religion, whether true or false. We look upon the Bible as our heritage. It has come down to us when in the midst of fears and doubts and been our comfort. We are responsible for what has been committed to us and for all the blessings and privileges we enjoy. The miracle of its preservation even when in the hands of its enemies is one that comforts us, because in the early days of the world’s history there were not in existence those means of preserving such a record as in more recent times. It means difficult and unceasing labor and right through it has been preserved in spite of a host of difficulties. In spite of hatred and opposition stirred up by the devil, God’s truth has been preserved in a way that has been marked by tears and at times by blood.

Its very preservers were sometimes the bitterest enemies to its principles, often ungodly men whose whole attitude towards God and His truth was one of enmity and hostility. Others have opposed certain parts, and rejected certain parts. God has used unregenerate men in bringing about His purposes. We see this in the case of Cyrus, King of Persia, Augustus, Caesar, Pontius Pilate. In more recent times we have Henry VII of England. We would not consider him as of estimable character, and yet God used him. I have no doubt that the political events in England were at that time guided of God, and particularly in the days of Elizabeth and James the first. I believe they were used in carrying out the eternal purpose of God in the preservation of His Word for the benefit of His people. The Bible presents to us a very complete picture of what was in the beginning. “In the beginning God created the Heaven, and the earth," Genesis 1. This doesn’t, to my mind, require any further explanation.

It tells us of the Great Creator behind the scenes and presents to us at once our origin - not as a creature emerging from some brutish condition or animal condition, but a civilized man capable of agriculture, able to invent musical instruments and to play thereon. To write a record of events and transactions was just as necessary to life then as now. Quite early in the history of the world, there existed a form of writing. These early writings were accomplished under great difficulties but were known even in the days of Abraham and in Egypt long before. The writings in Egypt were done on papyrus, made from a reed that grew along the Nile. The Egyptians looked upon writing as a boon as it enabled them to communicate and to keep a record, but only in a climate as Egypt possessed could this be preserved. In Egypt, papyrus writings thousands of years old have been dug up recently. Some written 4,000 to 5,000 years ago are now in the possession of scholars.  It was cut up into strips and beaten together, rubbed with a stone until it presented a smooth surface. Then their scribes could write upon it. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In Babylon somewhere about that time they also had their records. These were preserved on clay tablets that were baked in the sun or in the oven, then in the soft state the writings were inscribed with pen of iron or a wooden peg, and scholars are able to decipher those writings today. Amongst the Hebrews who were a pastoral people, the medium used was the skins of animals which were made into parchment. We see how the conditions that surrounded people’s lives had control over their actions and their inventions. The Lord Jesus often referred to the written word. He said, “It is written” on several occasions and so we see the value of the written word and especially when the words are those of men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. One extraordinary thing is that God has so ordered events that long before a man is in a sound spiritual state God has prepared him for his life’s work. We have an example in the life of Moses in Egypt. He was learned in the culture of Egypt, and this was later on a help to him. Many rejoice in the fact that God’s servants were unlearned and ignorant men. This was said of Peter and John (Acts 4:13). They had the intellectual ability and power to express themselves. It shows also that associating with the Lord and knowing God helps in some who were stupid enough when we began in the fellowship of God have been greatly helped in this way. The fellowship of God has been instrumental in bringing about that development. Moses benefited by associating in Egypt with the world’s most learned men and consequently he knew how to write. This was the man whom God selected. “The law was given by Moses.” He was told to write and so it was placed on record, not, of course, in a book like this, but on parchment rolls. This I mention for the benefit of the younger ones here; the others know it as well as I do. They were long rolls of about thirty feet, on two rollers, and just unwound from one onto the other. This was the means used to preserve the text. God gave to His instruments in this work wisdom and patience. What a wonderful patience those early writers must have had in spite of the difficulties and vicissitudes of the times, etc. They tell of how men wickedly departed from God and openly served idols and lived in sin and rebellion, and again, and again they were restored in the mercy of God.

In II Chronicles 34:16 it is recorded how in Josiah’s reign Hilkiah and the scribe discovered the book of Law in the house of the Lord. Shaphan carried the book to the king. “Hilkiah hath given me a book,” and he read the book before the king. The story appeals to one who is a lover of books. Shaphan read it and it so affected the king that he rent his clothes when he saw how far astray they had gone through not having the Scriptures. This story emphasizes the fact that the Bible, its precepts, and teachings was a characteristic of the dark ages, both in the case of the Jew or Christian. The Jews went into captivity on account of their sins and were captive in Babylon. Daniel was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar about his vision, and the interpretation of it (Daniel 2:31) about the successive kingdoms, Persian, Grecian, Roman, etc., down to the “feet, and toes” - The division of the great Roman Empire (Verse 41). This is apparent in Europe today. We see the working out of God’s great plan in bringing back His people from captivity - the instruments used being Nehemiah and Ezra. These stand out at that time among the prophets as the restorers and preservers of the Scripture, so that Israel might have a standard.

The Jews were under the rule of the Persians for 200 years, and under this peaceful rule they flourished, but the plans of God cannot be brought to a standstill. This era of peace passed away and the calm and settled government of the Persians came to an end. Cyrus was an instrument used in the divine plan. This empire passed away, and at the close of that there arose the great Grecian empire of Alexander the Great. Born in Macedonia, he became the great leader and he was trained in the warlike arts. He penetrated even to the heart of India and through Persia and he settled in the land he had gained by conquest. He even came to Jerusalem intending to destroy it. According to Josephus, he had a remarkable dream in which he saw the High Priest stirred in his robes, and this so impressed him that when the High Priest and his attendants besought him to spare the city, he did so; he marched upon Egypt and conquered it. He is said to have wept because there were no more nations to conquer. He died at the age of about 33 years, and the empire was divided amongst his generals. God so ordered events that the Scriptures might be preserved.

The ruler of Egypt was Ptolomy. A great army of the Jews at that time settled in Alexandria and right around the Mediterranean in fact, but especially in Alexandria. This city was noted for its library, but amongst all the books there, there was not a copy of the Law of God.   A Missionary was dispatched to Jerusalem to ask for a number of men who could transcribe and translate. They were to come to Alexandria and translate the old Hebrew Scriptures into Greek so that the Jews could read them in the Greek language. Subsequent events show how necessary this was. The sacred language of the Bible was Hebrew; Greek was the language of culture and commerce. It had spread through Asia. Greek was the language used in Palestine by a great number of Jews. Those men who went down to Egypt to Ptolmy accomplished the work, it was said, in 72 days. This was the first translation of the seventy or the Septuagint. It was the first translation of the Hebrew into Greek, the language of commerce.

The preservation of Jerusalem was temporary; soon the iniquity of the Jews brought about their overthrow. Jerusalem was taken by Antiochus Epiphanes. He differed from the other rulers who were more lenient. He was a monster of cruelty and yet God used him to chastise His chosen people. He was ruler of Syria. The Jewish people were in the jaws of a vice, as it were, between Egypt and Babylon, but as long as they obeyed the Lord their God and kept His precepts, all was well. When they turned to idolatry and forgot God, chastisement overtook them; Antiochus Epiphanes subjected the Jews to every kind of cruelty. Terrible scenes were enacted - the temple was ruined and profaned. God permitted this monster to commit all sorts of excesses. An image of Jupiter, the god of the Greeks, was set up and the Scriptures were forbidden. The sacred books were burned, yet in spite of all, we see how wonderfully God had intervened and in His grace had so arranged that His word was given to the nations.

For a considerable time Antiochus oppressed the Jewish people. It, however, produced a reaction. A nation may oppress another nation, but it brings a reaction. There were people called the Asmodeans who rose in rebellion against the horrors imposed by the Syrians. Then came the Maccabees, who freed the Jewish people from the yoke of Syria and rebuilt the temple about 160 B.C. According to the prophet Daniel, the Greek Kingdom was to pass away, although in the worldly estimation it seemed so strong it never would pass away. Now there was the rising power of the great Roman nation. At this time, armies were at the gates of Jerusalem.

There is a prophetic reference: Jacob on his deathbed said, in speaking of Judah, Genesis 49:10, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet till Shiloh come and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” While the glory of the latter days was not equal to the days of David and Solomon, yet there was still a sceptre. The armies of Herod were in Judea. Now the time was coming when God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under the Law (Galatians 4:4). Herod remained until Shiloh came. Never since that time have the Jews been a self-governing people. The Scriptures were now in Greek, and Hebrew, after the return from captivity, was no longer spoken generally. Aramaic was the language, possibly, of Christ and the apostles when together. Greek was the language generally spoken in public till the Romans came and later on this language was spoken. This was why the inscription on the Cross was in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, Latin being the language of the Romans. Greek was the language in which the New Testament was written; it was a language clear and rich in expression, and flexible. We are not to think this was the Greek of the classics. The classical Greek was very different from the Greek spoken and used by the Old Testament writers. Quite recently, some papyrus rolls have been discovered in Egypt, and they are written in the very same Greek in which the New Testament was written. This is a source of great comfort to many because some of the critics have said that the Greek of the New Testament was unreliable. With the rise of the papacy, Latin became the official language of Rome. Now we have the Scriptures in Greek as well as Hebrew and in various forms of the former. Jerome, a monk, now translated the Scripture from the original Greek into Latin. Originally it was from Hebrew to Greek and now we have it from Greek to Latin, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. The only version in use by the clerical party for a thousand years, this version was called the Vulgate. First, the Septuagint – the Greek, and now the Vulgate – the Latin.

There were two great divisions in the church; one had its headquarters at Rome and the other at Constantinople. Gradually the pontiff bested the power of the great patriarch and gained complete ascendancy. Then came the dark ages and the Scripture was forgotten and unknown, to a great extent, for 1000 years. The Popes themselves were guilty of every imaginable sin. It was just one record of appalling iniquity, a time when darkness ruled over the earth. Pagan Rome had a great power for evil but Papal Rome was far worse. Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages. I will read what Grattan Gaines says (this is necessarily somewhat abridged): “Hear me, though it is only truth I speak - the red story of Rome’s deeds - the saints of God who have been slaughtered by papal Rome - Ye persecuted the Waldenses, and horribly massacred them, gentle and unoffending men - Ye hunted them, tortured, stabbed, impaled, cut in pieces, slew innocent children, tortured babes and slew thousands and threw Christian Europe into a shamble. Thy soul is stained, O harlot, and upon thy gilded brow and brazen, thy name is written. Thou art a murderess, O Rome; thou hast shed blood in the streams, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus....” etc.

This gives a little picture of what happened in the dark ages and shows the attitude of the church of Rome toward the people of God, and that persecuting spirit is still there and ready to break forth, although in check. Now we come to England and an event which was to blight the papal power that had spread its pall over the English people. I believe some of our Irish friends resent the thought that their ancestors were Roman Catholics. A few hundred years ago every person here had Roman Catholic ancestors and what we enjoy here is on account of those who were martyrs - we cannot judge them. When I see men willing to go to the stake for the Word of God and whose voices are lifted up against Babylon and the oppression of the Harlot - I must take off my hat and feel a reverence in my heart and say surely such a man must be on the right hand or left hand of Jesus of Nazareth. 
It is commonly believed that Luther was the first one in the reformation, and indeed Luther’s name stands out, but I am glad that there were “Protestants” in the truest sense before Luther’s time. There were the Waldenses and the Albigenses in England. Wycliffe was a hundred years before Luther in witnessing for the Truth of God. He was a doctor of the Oxford University, a lover of the Scriptures and by them his eyes were opened to see the evil of Papacy. By the Scriptures in Latin, the translation of Jerome, his eyes were opened to the papal errors and the unscriptural position of the Roman church. It shows the power of the Word to enlighten. He attacked Rome by pamphlets, books and sermons. Here was a lone man and arrayed against him were kings and bishops who were unceasing in their warfare against so called “heretics.” He attacked the corruption of Rome, and finally, by translating the Bible from Latin into English, brought the Bible within reach of the English people. He also organized a band of poor preachers who denounced the bishops and the Pope. They were called “lollards”, which meant “to sing”. They were persecuted by the clergy. They claimed the Scriptures to be the property of the people. The clerics of Rome said, “We are the rightful custodians of the Bible, we will hold it.” Wycliffe said, “They are the rightful property of the people.” The apostles had no college degrees.

Then we have on record how the English king married a Bohemian princess. The king’s interests were aroused by this lady, who had no doubt heard of Wycliffe. There had been a great sin in Bohemia and the reformers had often suffered at the stake, for to speak of the things of God in the tongue of which they were forbidden was an unforgivable offense in the eyes of Rome. Wycliffe was brought before abbots and bishops - an old man, pale and worn, expecting to be burned, to hear the sentence of excommunication. For political reasons he was allowed to retire to the country. Later after his death his bones were dug up and burned. Thus we see the vindictive nature of those servants of the devil. In Wycliffe’s time, the task of copying the Scriptures was a toilsome one, as it had all to be done by hand. A copy cost about g40, a great sum in those days. This was the work of Wycliffe and his associates, day in and day out. So eager were people that a load of hay was the price paid for permission to read it for one hour a day. This was in the 14th century.

We now come to the 15th century and the beginning of a new era 20 years after the death of Wycliffe. John Gossella, who was afterwards known as Gutenburg, accidentally discovered what became the art of printing. He was playing with blocks made from the bark of a tree, and which had letters carved on them, when he let one fall into a vessel containing dye. He took it out and laid it on the table and when he took it up, there was the letter of his name. In 1450 the first Bible was printed. This was in the time known as the “Renaissance,” or revival of Europe. Previously, all learning had been in the hands of the monastic orders; now a new era was about to begin and the dawning of a better day for Europe.

This begins with the invention of printing, and at the same time there were important events in the political sphere. The Turkomans were in Europe. They took Constantinople, which had been a part of the Greek Empire.   This became afterwards the capital of Turkey. The Greeks were unable to withstand the Turks. This seemed to be disastrous to Europe to see a pagan power encroaching, but as a crowd of Greek scholars came from that part of Europe and brought with them a knowledge of the Greek Scriptures - thus while Rome held the Vulgate, the Greeks had the custody of their ancient manuscripts. Those Greek scholars brought their manuscript with them and thus spread a knowledge of them throughout Europe.

Erasmus compiled and printed in Greek from the original manuscripts and it was possible for scholars to read in the original tongue the Word of God. It acted as dynamite, and the result was to give the English people their noblest heritage. In the 16th century, there was the revival of Greek learning and the compiling of a Greek Testament. William Tyndall became a famous scholar. He was of humble mind however, and he became the deadly enemy of the corruption of the clergy and of Rome. It was he who said, “I will cause the boy who drove the plough to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope and bishops.” What noble words! There was no place of safety for him in Roman Catholic England; he must needs flee from England to fulfill the purpose of his heart, and in hunger and poverty he worked and had it printed. He got those books into England in bales of goods and sacks of flour. In spite of the vigilance of his enemies, the Scriptures were scattered far and wide.

Thousands were seized and burned at the cross of St. Paul’s – burned by English bishops and by the authority of an English king. So we can swallow with a grain of salt the belauded virtues of the archbishops of York or Canterbury and their attitude in sitting in judgment on that unfortunate prince, now a fugitive from his country. There had been a darkness over England and God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. His life ended at the stake. He was betrayed by a man named Phillips. On Friday the 6th of October, 1636, he was first strangled and then burned to ashes. His last prayer was, “ Lord, open the eyes of the king of England.”

His Bible has been little improved upon. The Saxon simplicity and the charm are there and give an impression of what manner of man was William Tyndall. In the margin were the translators’ notes, and show a strong antipapal feeling. One read in reference to Aaron’s calf, “The Pope’s Bull slayed more than Aaron’s calf.” You are aware that the Pope’s “bull” is a document. Tyndall had broken the power of the Pope. Elizabeth may have been instrumental in resisting the King of Spain, as Augustus Caesar, or Pontius Pilate were used in fulfilling the purpose of God, but it was owing to such men as Wycliffe and Tyndall – men who loved not their lives unto death – King James added a version, first the authorized and then the revised versions. Andy Robb said once, “I have no difficulty believing that God helped Tyndall.” At present there is held in the British Museum, the manuscripts of the Alexandrian translation. They were in the possession of Russia, and when the Bolsheviks gained the upper hand, they were sold and the British government bought them for $100. The other translation (Codex Vaticanus) is in the possession of the Vatican.

The Manuscripts were written first in uncial characters, then in the running hand or cursory style. With regard to the Roman Catholic version - it was published as a counter - bland to Tyndall. This translation is just a translation from a translation, or from the Latin version which was a translation from the Greek. There are other versions such as Weymouth, Moffat, etc. and these are, in some respect, helpful to students. They are an effort to defeat the mortality of languages and render the text in current form. Greek and Latin languages are “dead” and because of that, are a valuable medium to preserve the imperishable truths in original purity, and those things that appeal to our hearts in the same way as to God’s people of old. The Bible is now printed in 711 languages and is of all books the “best seller.” I will close with a quotation of Walter Scott – “To read, to feel, to hope, to pray."  Amen.