Light for Israel: Hebrew Scriptures for the Jewish World
August 16, 2015

Origins of Bible

In ancient times, the stories of God were passed down through generations by word of mouth. This is known as the “oral tradition.” It is not known who first recorded these stories, but some people estimate it could have been as early as 1,400 B.C. It is quite likely that Moses wrote down significant parts of the Torah: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 31:9), although there is no scholarly consensus on how much or which parts he wrote.

The recording of all the books in the Old Testament did not happen at the same time. The process took centuries, and while some were being recorded, others were still being passed down orally. Once they were all written down, the process of collecting them all together probably began around 400 B.C.

All but a few sections of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew with parts of Daniel (chapters 2 – 7) and Ezra (chapters 4:8 – 6:18) written in Aramaic. After Alexander the Great swept through the Middle East in the fourth century B.C., Greek became the common language.

Not long after this, an Egyptian king asked the High Priest in Jerusalem for seventy scholars to translate the Jewish scriptures into Greek. This first translation became known as the Septuagint (meaning “seventy”). Sometime after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, a Jewish council discussed which books made up their Bible, what Christians now call the Old Testament. The rabbis recognized only the Hebrew / Aramaic canon, even though the Septuagint included other books.

In the fifth century A.D., Jerome translated the Hebrew scriptures into Latin. This translation became known as the Vulgate. Originally, he had wanted to translate only the Hebrew / Aramaic canon (the original books in the Hebrew Bible), but he was overruled by other church leaders. As a consequence, the Christian church retained the Septuagint canon until the Protestant reformers chose to revert to the Hebrew canon in the sixteenth century. The Catholic and Orthodox churches have continued to hold to the larger canon.

The first New Testament books recorded were probably those written by Sha’ul. It is estimated that Sha’ul began writing some of his letters of encouragement to churches as early as twenty years after Yeshua’s death. The remainder of the New Testament was written between about A.D. 50 – 100. For more than 200 years after this, Christians debated which books should be included in the New Testament. By 367 most church leaders had agreed on the final twenty-seven books we have in the New Testament today.