Bible "Cliff Notes": Between the Testaments

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Between the Testaments

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Bible "Cliff Notes": Between the Testaments

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Previously in this series we explored the Old Testament and the history of the Israelite people. Starting from the patriarchs to the formation and demise of the divided nation of Israel, the Old Testament leaves us begging for God’s solution for His troubled people. The Jews, one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 49), returned to their capital city Jerusalem, while the other tribes of Israel remained scattered and assimilated abroad. Their descendants can be traced to several modern nations (for more information, check out our study aid The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy). Now, let's bridge the Old and New Testament together by looking into the history of the Jews after their return, and the formation of the manuscripts of the Bible.

While rebuilding their capital, the Jews remained under Persian control until Alexander the Great came through in 330 B.C. With his administration came the spread of Greek culture, and most of the Jews outside of Jerusalem adopted the culture, including the Greek language. After Alexander’s death, the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt controlled the Jews up to 198 B.C., until the Seleucid (Syrian) Empire governed them for the 30 years that followed. During the Seleucid Empire, Hellenism (Greek culture) continued to spread, and the Jews were persecuted greatly. As a result, the Jews rebelled against the Seleucid Empire in what is known as the Maccabean Revolt, and became self-ruling again until the Romans conquered Judea in 63 B.C. (ESV Study Bible, “The Time Between the Testaments,” 1783-1784).

After a long history of invasion and revolt, the Jewish people became desperate to assert their own identity. As a result, their faith became about knowing and studying the law, so that one could follow it and avoid God's punishment for disobedience that had previously devastated their kingdom. Synagogues became a place of teaching by rabbis and scribes who “systematically” studied and interpreted the Word of God, particularly the law (Zondervan Compact Bible Dictionary, 528). However, these individuals, and the various sects which emerged (i.e. the Pharisees and Sadducees) added new traditions, laws and regulations to God’s commandments, which Jesus Christ later denounced in His ministry.

The Jewish people longed for their promised King, the Messiah, of whom the prophet Jeremiah had said: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely” (Jeremiah 23:5-6 Jeremiah 23:5-6 [5] Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. [6] In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
American King James Version×
, English Standard Version). So the Jews waited for the arrival of their new King, not knowing that the One who was coming would change the course of human history and be rejected by many of their own people.

Manuscripts

In the time between the testaments, the Old Testament Bible (a.k.a. the “Hebrew Bible”), was also translated into Hellenistic (or Koine) Greek. This version of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint, and has been very helpful in validating manuscripts of the Bible. It contained books of the Old Testament, but it also contained literary works from Jewish culture. These additional literary works, known as the Apocrypha, are not considered to be inspired Scripture, but are stories which shine light on the culture and times of the Jews. The most telling sign that they are not authentic scripture is their content, which is not compatible with the teachings of Scripture, and their misrepresentation of authorship, origin and source. Furthermore, the apostle Paul said in the New Testament that the Jews were responsible for the “oracles of God,” meaning that they were responsible for keeping the divine words of God (Romans 3:2 Romans 3:2Much every way: chiefly, because that to them were committed the oracles of God.
American King James Version×
). Yet the Jews omitted the apocryphal books when they canonized the scriptures between 200 B.C.-A.D. 200, simply because they were not works that were inspired by God.

The Bible received its name as a result of the Greek influence that arrived between the testaments. The Greek word biblia means “books,” and as we have covered in the previous series, the Bible is a collection of books with divine origin. Though we do not have the original copies of these books, we do have thousands of manuscripts copying the texts word-for-word, with astounding agreement between each copy. In ancient times, automated printing did not exist, and many documents could not understandably survive the test of time. Therefore, it was a practice throughout the ancient world to copy books into manuscripts for circulation and preservation. Not only have the manuscripts preserved the text of the Bible, but they have also preserved much of the world’s antiquity!

History likewise confirms that the Bible’s manuscripts were faithfully recorded by Jewish scribes. Scribes were individuals who made their professional careers out of copying the books of the Bible, with impeccable precision and scrutiny. Both the Jews and Greeks committed “complex oral traditions to memory,” which similarly increased their credibility and accuracy (Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today). Subsequently, the Bible’s preservation has been a crucial element in the history and identity of the people of God. As the prophet put it so beautifully in the book of Isaiah, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (40:8, ESV).

The reconstruction of the Jewish people and their capital city after centuries of devastation provides a significant backdrop for the life and times of the New Testament. Likewise, the meticulous copying of manuscripts and canonization of the Hebrew Bible preserved God’s authoritative text, used by Jesus Christ and His followers. This part of the series merely scratched the surface of the history between the testaments. However these times are essential to understanding the Bible with a broader perspective. Next in this series, we will dive into the New Testament, including the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the beginnings of the Christian Church.

Sources:

Bryant, Al. Zondervan Compact Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994. Print.Easton, M. G.

Easton Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Thomas Nelson, 1897. Print.

Stetzer, Ed. "A Closer Look: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament." Christianity Today. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.

The Time Between the Testaments. ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.

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