The Invariability of the Old Testament

I will go through a discourse to prove the following generalized statements false:

“irregardless of how the book came into being some 3 or 4 centuries ago. Or okay, was rewritten at that time”

“Vedas as an instrument of religion that hasn’t altered in several thousand years. unlike the bible”

“many others absolutely totally have the faith that the bible they worship as the true word of their god was written way back when, And no changes have been done to is since the activities written about in the book took place. That the stories handed down from generation to generation and told over and over again were EXACTLY as happened with no little bits of embellishment EVER”

“How and why did the verbal accounts alter from when they were first told up until they were written? That one, well, it comes from the simple extrapolation of human nature.”

This last one tied me up in knots.  The poster admits that once written down, it was reasonable to assume through various processes that it maintained its integrity.  However, what kept it from being changed before being written down?  Then the Truth struck me.
Shared memories represent one proof of the reliability of the OT.  Antiquity saw the passing of countless human generations, but they managed to keep a living memory of momentous events.  For instance, other cultures have told stories that are strikingly similar to Noah’s Flood.  This is indirect proof for the reliability of the OT.  Some unfinished research appears to show that the further away from the Tower of Babel the fewer the details that match with the Genesis flood.

The Genesis schema of documenting creation and listing two sets of eight or ten representative generations living before and after the Flood also finds commonality in ancient Sumerian and Babylonian literature. This demonstrates that the OT fits the literary forms and practices of the era it documents. Finally, long lives like Methuselah’s 969 years are no bar to personal historicity; ancient Sumerian documents maintain that king (En)-me-bara-gisi reigned for 900 years.  The 900-year reign is not credible, but king (En)-me- bara-gisi was not fictional.  He is known to be historical because archaeologists have discovered inscriptions bearing his name. It was a widespread ancient convention to “stretch” spans of true events and ages of people, that hailed from primeval times.

Noah, his sons, and his further descendants mentioned in the Bible are found and named in numerous cultures, and there is much extra-biblical evidence for their existence, showing that they were real people who made a real impact. Nobody from the other flood-like stories are mentioned in the Bible.  There are royal genealogies in Europe that trace their family lines back to Noah.  (Hodge, Bodie (August 19, 2010). Chapter 28 – Was the Dispersion at Babel a Real Event?. Answers in Genesis. Retrieved March 18, 2017.)


Now, for the facts.  Who wrote the books of the Old Testament and when did they do it?  As ORIGINALLY inspired it was divided into three major divisions. The first division was the Law, the second was the Prophets, and the third was the Writings (which included the Psalms and Proverbs). It was written from approximately the 1660s B.C. to the 400s B.C. The original canonized version contained twenty-two books, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

When the first five books of the Old Testament are carefully examined, they demonstrate that what was written by Moses were the actual words of the LORD God. Moses wrote nothing on his own initiative, but only conveyed the words God commanded him to write.

Prior to his death Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. This finalized the Pentateuch or first five books of the Law.  He then gave the original scrolls of the Law, also called autographs, to the priests to be placed in special sleeves attached to the side of the Ark of the Covenant.

Later, God used priests such as Samuel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, descendants of Aaron, to pen other books of the Old Testament.  What they had created was ‘laid up before the Lord.’  When Samuel proclaimed the amended covenant for the children of Israel, after God granted their request for a king, he ‘wrote it in a book (scroll) and laid it up before the Lord.’ (1Samuel 10:25).

The writings of other men who were not priests or Levites – such as King David and Solomon, of the tribe of Judah, and many of the prophets – were also submitted to the priesthood to be ‘laid up before the Lord’ and eventually included in the Old Testament. After David authored his first psalm he gave it to Asaph the priest, who was in charge of the Ark of the Covenant when David brought it to Jerusalem..

Thus, important written accounts became part of the prophets, Psalms and historical writings. Ultimately, such writings were officially made a permanent part of the Word of God when Ezra the priest – assisted by the priests and Levites of the Great Assembly or Synagogue – completed the final editing and canonization of the Old Testament Scriptures in the late fifth century B.C.

The inspired order of Bible books was originally set by Ezra the prophet (for the Old Testament) and the Apostle John (for the New Testament). Many years after they died, however, their arrangement of Scripture was CHANGED.  Who changed the original arrangement of God’s word?  Why did they do it?  Why does it matter TODAY?

Ezra divided the Bible books (manuscripts) that compose the Old Testament into three major divisions. These divisions are called the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (or Psalms). Jesus Christ, in his first appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, validated this order when he said, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the LAW of Moses and the PROPHETS and the PSALMS (or Writings) concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).

How did Ezra arrange the Old Testament manuscripts? The first section of the Bible, the Law, contained the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The second section, the Prophets, contained Joshua and Judges (considered one manuscript), 1Samuel, 2Samuel, 1Kings and 2Kings (one manuscript), Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, plus one manuscript containing all twelve of the Minor Prophets. The final section, called the Writings (or Psalms), contained the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, plus Ezra and Nehemiah (one manuscript), along with 1Chronicles and 2Chronicles (one manuscript). The Old Testament was originally inspired to have three main sections with a grand total of 22 manuscripts (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet).

God gave the final task of collecting and canonizing the New Testament to the apostle John.  In the period between 96 and 99 A.D., John, as the last living disciple of Christ, arranged the manuscripts he had into four main divisions. The first division, the Gospels, contained Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and then Acts. Following this division came the General Epistles, which had the writings of James, 1Peter, 2Peter, 1John, 2John, 3John and Jude. The next section then contained all the writings of Paul in the following order: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. The final section contained Revelation.

God originally inspired the entire Bible to have seven divisions (seven symbolizes spiritual perfection) with a total of forty-nine (seven times seven or perfection multiplied perfectly) manuscripts. This is VASTLY different from modern translations of Scripture (like the KJV, NKJV, NIV, etc.) which have NO divisions, NO logical arrangement of manuscripts and contain 17 MORE manuscripts than what was intended!   It was the fourth-century priest Jerome (c. 347 to 420 A.D.) who rearranged the Scriptures to what we have today. He changed the INSPIRED original order of God’s word for political and ecclesiastical reasons.  Many of the early textual critics admitted that the arrangement of Jerome is provincial, sectarian and CLEARLY ADOPTED FOR POLITICAL REASONS . . . The truth is, Jerome (along with Augustine who followed him) in adopting his novel arrangement wanted to exalt ‘Rome’ and its theology over the site of ‘Jerusalem’ and over the authority of the eastern churches.”

The order of the Books were changed, but the wording within them was not.

But how do we know that the passages have not been changed?

To determine the accuracy of a copied manuscript, textual critics scrutinize the way the transcripts have passed through history to their extant forms.  The higher the volume of the earliest texts (and their parallels to each other), the greater the textual reliability and the less chance that the transcript’s content has been changed over the years.  Multiple copies may also be grouped into text types, with some types judged closer to the hypothetical original than others.  Differences often extend beyond minor variations and may involve, for instance, interpolation of material central to issues of historicity and doctrine.

As an atheist for some 30 years of my life I argued about the Bible with many an individual  and usually came up with conclusions that Bible passages were simply trite phrases from either biased, prejudiced or simply unknowledgeable, unread men and women.  However, one individual convinced me that at least it was unique.  Webster must have had this “Book of books” in mind when he wrote the definition for “unique”: “1. one and only; single; sole. 2. different from all others; having no like or equal.”

Professor M. Montiero-Williams, former Boden professor of Sanskrit, spent 42 years studying Eastern books and said, in comparing them with the Bible: “there is a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever… a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science of religious thought[i].”

It was written over a 1,500 year time span which included 40 generations.  Written by over 40 authors from kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, scholars, tax collectors, etc.

Parts of it were written in the wilderness, in a dungeon, on a hillside, a palace, behind prison walls, while travelling amongst bandits and friendly individuals.  Written in times of war and peace, Written in Asia, Africa and Europe.  Written in three languages Hebrew the language of the Old Testament, Aramaic the “common language” of the Near East and the New Testament was written in Greek.

The writings themselves belong to a great variety of literary types. They include history, law (civil, criminal, ethical, ritual, sanitary), religious poetry, didactic treatises, lyric poetry, parable and allegory, biography, personal correspondence, personal memoirs and diaries, in addition to the distinctively Biblical types of prophecy and apocalyptic.

The Bible has been read by more people and published in more languages than any other book. There have been more copies produced of its entirety and more portions and selections than any other book in history. Some will argue that in a designated month or year more of a certain book was sold. However, over all there is absolutely no book that reaches or even begins to compare to the circulation of the Scriptures. The first major book printed was the Latin Vulgate. It was printed on Gutenberg’s press[ii].

Bernard Ramm speaks of the accuracy and number of biblical manuscripts: “Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora (parva, magna, andfinalis) they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity — scribes, lawyers, massoretes. Whoever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?[iii]

There was a system of critical notes on the external form of the Biblical text. This system of notes represents the literary labors of innumerable scholars, of which the beginning falls probably in pre-Maccabean times and the end reaches to the year 1425.  The language of the Masoretic notes is partly Hebrew and partly Palestinian Aramaic. Chronologically speaking, the Aramaic is placed between two periods of the Hebrew; the latter appearing in the oldest, the pre-amoraic period, and in the latest, the Arabic period (which begins here about 800). To the oldest period belong terms like = “letter”; , “section”; , “verse”; , “sense-clause”; , “plene”; , “defective”; , “Bible”; also ; the verb = “to punctuate,” and certain derivatives; not all of these terms, however, happen to occur in the remnants of tannaitic literature which have been preserved. The Aramaic elements may thus be dated roughly from 200 to 800.

From the statements in Talmudic literature to the effect that there was deposited in the court of the Temple a standard copy of the Bible for the benefit of copyists, and that there were paid correctors of Biblical books among the officers of the Temple (Ket. 106a); from the fact that such a copy is mentioned in the Aristeas Letter (§ 30; comp. Blau, “Studien zum Althebr. Buchwesen,” p. 100); from the statements of Philo (preamble to his “Analysis of the Political Constitution of the Jews”) and of Josephus (“Contra Ap.” i. 8) that the text of Scripture had never BEEN ALTERED; finally, from the fact that there seem to have been no differences of readings between Pharisees and Sadducees, it may be concluded that the Scriptural text, at least as much as then belonged to the canon, was already fixed, at the latest, about 200 B.C. and perhaps a century earlier

Bruce Metzger answers those who speak of the difficulty of a continuous text: “It must not be thought, however, that such ambiguities occur very often in Greek. In that language it is the rule, with very few exceptions, that native Greek words can end only in a vowel (or a diphthong) or in one of three consonants, v, p, and s, (Nu, Rho and Sigma). Furthermore, it should not be supposed that scriptio continua presented exceptional difficulties in reading, for apparently it was customary in antiquity to read aloud, even when one was alone. Thus despite the absence of spaces between words, by pronouncing to oneself what was read, syllable by syllable, one soon became used to reading scriptio continua.”

In A.D. 303, Diocletian issued an edict (Cambridge History of the Bible, Cambridge University Press, 1963) to stop Christians from worshipping and to destroy their Scriptures: ” . . . an imperial letter was everywhere promulgated, ordering the razing of the churches to the ground and the destruction by fire of the Scriptures, and proclaiming that those who held high positions would lose all civil rights, while those in households, if they persisted in their profession of Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty.”

The Bible is unique in its survival. This does not prove the Bible is the Word of God. But it does prove it stands alone among books. Anyone seeking truth ought to consider a book that has the above unique qualifications.

For many years, “higher critics” of the Bible postulated that the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, could not have been written by Moses – despite the fact that the books themselves say that they were authored by him. This idea came to be know as the “Documentary Hypothesis,” and was commonly taught in most religion courses in Western universities.

The proponents of this idea held that writing was not even in existence at the time of Moses, therefore it had to have been of later authorship. The minds of these critics went to work, and they devised a great structure of Old Testament criticism based on this premise – concluding that the books were written by several different authors.

Then, a simple archeological discovery interrupted their progress. The “black stele” – a sculpted stone containing the detailed laws of Hammurabi in large, wedge-shaped characters – was found in the Middle East. Was it post- Moses? No! It was pre-Mosaic by at least three centuries; not only that, but it was pre-Abraham (2,000 B.C.). Amazingly enough, it antedated Moses, who was supposed to have been a primitive man without an alphabet.

Even more amazing is the fact that, in light of this discovery, the “Documentary Hypothesis” is still being taught in universities today.

The “assured results of higher criticism” said there were no Hittites at the time of Abraham, for there were no other records of them apart from the Old Testament. They must be myth. Well, wrong again. As the result of archaeology, there are now hundreds of references overlapping more than 1,200 years of Hittite civilization.

Lets lay off the facts a little bit now and just get back into the Bible itself/

Wilbur Smith, who compiled a personal library of 25,000 volumes (and he not only read them- he studied them), concludes that “whatever one may think of the authority of and the message presented in the book we call the Bible, there is world-wide agreement that in more ways than one it is the most remarkable volume that has ever been produced in these some five thousand years of writing on the part of the human race.

“It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah. The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race . . . .” “Mohammedanism cannot point to any prophecies of the coming of Mohammed uttered hundreds of years before his birth. Neither can the founders of any cult in this country rightly identify any ancient text specifically foretelling their appearance.”

Facts now”

From I Samuel through II Chronicles one finds the history of Israel, covering about five centuries. The Cambridge Ancient History, (Vol. 1, p. 222) says: “The Israelites certainly manifest a genius for historical construction, and the Old Testament embodies the oldest history writing extant.”

The “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10 is an astonishingly accurate historical account. According to Albright: “It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature without a remote parallel even among the Greeks….’ The Table of Nations’ remains an astonishingly accurate document…. (It) shows such remarkably ‘modern’ understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation in the modern world, in spite of all its complexity, that scholars never fail to be impressed with the author’s knowledge of the subject.”.

“It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature without a remote parallel even among the Greeks….’ The Table of Nations’ remains an astonishingly accurate document…. (It) shows such remarkably ‘modern’ understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation in the modern world, in spite of all its complexity, that scholars never fail to be impressed with the author’s knowledge of the subject.”

One thing to keep in mind is that the church did not create the canon or books included in what we call Scripture. Instead, the church recognized the books that were inspired from their inception. They were inspired by God when written.

  1. Is it authoritative — did it come from the hand of God? (Does this book come with a divine “thus saith the Lord”?)
  2. Is it prophetic — was it written by a man of God?
  3. Is it authentic? [The fathers had the policy of “if in doubt, throw it out.” This enhanced the” validity of their discernment of canonical books.”]
  4. Is it dynamic — did it come with the life-transforming power of God?
  5. Was it received, collected, read and used — was it accepted by the people of God?


[i] Collett, Sidney. All About the Bible. Old Tappan: Revell, n.d. pp 314-315

[ii] Greenslade, Stanley Lawrence (ed.). Cambridge History of the Bible. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1963. pp  478-480

[iii] Ramm, Bernard. Protestant Christian Evidences. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957.  pp 230-231


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