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The Bible Canon

21st August 2009, mgh,hej

 

3) Torah the Inspired Word of God

The Bible text, especially the Hebrew Old Testament, has been transmitted to us today esentially as it was written. But how can we be sure it is the inspired word given by God?"

The Torah (Hebrew meaning 'law') is often called the Pentateuch (Greek 'five books'). It includes the Law and the history of the nation of Israel written by Moses. The Torah mentions details were collected from several books concerning the Creation, the generations of Adam and the wars during the wilderness wanderings of Israel which since have been lost (The Covenant, Exodus 24:7 & Wars of the Lord, Numbers 21:14) indicating they were not important.

Historical evidence for an early date of the Torah

Though the oldest fragment of the Torah is dated 600 BC and the oldest manuscript among the Dead Sea scrolls, each archaeological discovery of contemporary texts to date has reinforced the accuracy of trivial detail in the Torah, especially relating to practices in Egypt. The fact the Pharoah was not named in the Torah is consitent with Egyptain documents speaking of the king merely calling him 'Pharaoh' until about 1000BC. Joseph's price of 20 pieces was the going rate for a slave about 1500BC. In Ur about 2000BC a slave would cost 10-15 pieces of silver but by 1200BC it had crept up to 30 pieces throughout Assyria. Potipher and Asenath were names in Egypt for only a short time and fell into disuse, indicating that the record was written very close to the time of the events. That Joseph was given a ring, clothing and a collar fits with pictures and inscriptions of the 18th Dynasty (Reznick). This is evidence that it was written early before this incidental knowledge was lost.

Moses as the Voice of God

Remarkably, the reason for the Hebrew understanding that Moses spoke the word of God, is that they were afraid to hear the voice of their God.

And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. (Exodus 20:19)

And in rebuke it is recorded that the God of Israel said to Miriam and Aaron before all the people,

My servant Moses ..With him will I speak mouth to mouth... and not in dark speeches (Numbers12:7-8)

Miriam is made leprous and a sign to all. This must be a true history as it reflects badly on all involved. One cannot imagine a reason to fabricate a story where the famous national leader is shown as weak and the religious leader Aaron publicly rebuked by God.

Early acceptance of the Law of Moses as divinely inspired

The book of Joshua elevates the book of the Law of Moses. Joshua gave important advice to the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel had to be obedient to and have a sound knowledge of the writings of Moses,

Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to< the right hand or to the left; (Joshua 23:6)
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

The book had to have been readily available to the nation during Joshua's lifetime. Joshua does not add to the Law of Moses, but states instead it is the complete requirement for service to God.

The Book of the Law Most Important

Almost 500 years after Moses, David learnt that he had to turn to the Law of Moses for guidance. When moving the Ark of God, he was distressed when Uzza was struck dead for reaching out to steady it. David learnt that the Law had laid down specific conditions for the movement of the Ark. That he had to turn to the Law of Moses, indicates that those books were still the only source for instruction.

Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever... And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the LORD.(1Chronicles 15:5,15-16)

This incident must be truth, as nobody would fabricate an incident that establishes that the honoured king David was at fault. The incident elevates the commands of Moses as the inspired word of God. The Psalmist in Psalm 1 appears to have learnt from this lesson and quotes Joshua, where the Lord speaks to Joshua about the book of the Law, and how as leader of the people, he needs to meditate and think about this law continually (Joshua 1:8).

But his delight is in the Torah of the LORD; and in his Torah doth he meditate day and night (Psa 1:2)

In the first Psalm the Law of the Lord is the focus of the faithful their delight. Psalm 119, a very long Psalm, is devoted to the Law and commanments of the Lord. In another Psalm the law of the Lord, which is embodied in the law of Moses, is again upheld,

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19: 7-9)

The book of Chronicles records the book of the Law was subject to a path that could have led to its demise at least twice. After Athaliah destroys the worship of Yahweh, Jehoiada in the task of re-establishing the Temple worship in about 850 BC observed the requirements of the Law of Moses, again showing that the books of the Law of Moses were still available and valued as the decider of currect practice.

Also Jehoiada appointed the offices of the house of the LORD by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the LORD, to offer the burnt offerings of the LORD, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David. (2Chronicles 23:18)

Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah set up a carved image in the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 33:5-6). For his great wickedness the army of Asserhaddon, King of Assyria, invaded the land and he was carried captive to Babylon. The book of the Law was lost until the eighteenth year of his grandson Josiah about 620BC. When Hilkiah the Priest was repairing the Temple, he found the book of the Law (2 Chronicles 34:14). King Josiah was grieved that the people had not followed the words of the book and commanded that it should be read to the people and that the people should follow the Law. At this time the book of the Law of Moses was saved from destruction.

Later after the captivity in Babylon and the return of the people to their own land, approx 458BC, Ezra was dependent on the same books of the Law of Moses to establish the procedures for the worship by the people.

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel...And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. (Ezra 3:10, Ezra 6:18)

Ezra was a scribe in the Law of Moses, which was an important part of the instruction given to those who had returned to their land from Babylon.

This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. (Ezra 7:6)

By the time of Nehemiah, the reading from the Law was a long standing tradition in Israel,

And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9: 3)

Nehemiah makes reference to the importance of the writings of Moses. The texts were still in existence hundreds of years after Moses' lifetime and had been preserved.

And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:.. as it is written. (Nehemiah 8:14-15)... And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, .. as it is written in the law: And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD: Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as written in the law.. (Nehemiah 10:34-36)

The book of Moses is upheld as inspired by no less than 14 other books in the Old testament (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1& 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Micah).

The law of Moses is the Ultimate Authority in the New Testament

Jesus himself when faced with questions, such as divorce, does not give a ruling, but asks

"What did Moses command you?"(Mark 10:3)

This question is consistent with the fact that he refers to the law of Moses to prove many principles,

Have ye not read in the book of Moses?(Mark 12:26)

Jesus values every letter of the law,

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: (Matthew 5:18)

Not all Moses' prophecies have yet been fulfilled therefore, according to Jesus, the significance of the book of the law still has not passed. Jesus saw the books of Moses as the only background people required to belive in him

"For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5: 46-7)

The apostles also valued the law highly. Paul speaks much of it his letters,

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. (Romans 7:12)
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:4).
The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

The first five books are considered by the apostles to be the inspired word, and the basis of their faith. In the New Testament Moses is mentioned 80 times and 'the law' is referred to over 140 times. Compare this to 'love' which occurs only 180 times (or 'kingdom'x150, 'grace'x 131, forgive(ness)x 59, 'salavation'x 45). The number of times it is mentioned shows how imporatant this topic was to the Apostles.

In summary

There is external historical evidence for an early date for the books of Moses. There are also other books of the Bible that maintain right from the very first there was an acceptance of the book of law as the word of God. What the history of Israel shows is that over time there was not an increasing veneration, but rather that acceptance of the message varied with the spiritual state of the people, or whether they were influenced by idolatry.

However, Jesus and the apostles reinforce that these books are considered the very basis of the inspired word of God. Not all books of the Bible are equal. The first five books are more important, being the foundation of the canon.

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