The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
GOD has given titles to His books; He has put plain directions on His letters, but the addresses on His epistles are unheeded; the inspired names on the outside of the scrolls have been mostly changed to others of human invention.
Solid progress cannot be made in the apprehension of God’s revelation unless we first restore His mutilated superscriptions and take heartfelt heed of the plain instructions which precede each epistle.
On the shelf before me stands a bulky volume with the following inscription on its back:
If this were in English instead of Hebrew it would read something like this:
LAW, SPOKESMEN, AND LITERATURE
“Oh!” you say, “it is a Hebrew Old Testament!” I beg pardon: it contains the old covenant which Yahweh made with Israel at Sinai, but it also contains the new covenant which He will make with them (Jer.31:31-34) in the days of their restoration. Why should we call God’s books “testaments” as though He were about to die, when they hardly ever touch on such a subject from one end to the other?
They do contain contracts or covenants, yet these are but a small part of their burden. If we had written a book and someone insisted on substituting one of the minor chapter headings for the whole volume we would not tolerate it. Why should we stand by and allow such liberties with the Book of books? We have become so accustomed to speaking of the “Old and New Testaments” that it will be hard to break ourselves of the habit. Why, the very apostles who wrote some of its contents would not understand us if we used this phrase.
But what shall we call the whole Bible? We must have some name with which to handle it. We will never be able to improve on the inspired title used by the apostle Paul in his second epistle to Timothy (3:15):
THE SACRED SCRIPTURES.
Here is an ideal name. It is comprehensive enough to include all. It is exclusive of all else, for no other writings are sacred. In the Greek language the word GRAMMA means a writing of any kind, hence the adjective sacred is needed to distinguish this from profane literature. In English we have the special term “Scriptures,” which carries in itself the sense of sacred, hence we are well in line with God when we use the term “scriptures” (Matt.22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:32; John 5:39; Acts 18:28; 2 Peter 3:16).
It is already evident that the “Bible,” as we have it, and the “Scriptures,” as it exists in the original tongues, are often quite different. Hence it is wise to distinguish between the two, leaving “Bible” for the human, mutilated translations and preserving “Scriptures” for its sacred use of indicating the inspired originals. We are interested in the Bible only so far as it agrees with the Scriptures. So, if the title page reads “Holy Bible” let it stand, but endeavor to conform your copy of it to the Scriptures. If the title in your Bible is “Old Testament” or “New Testament,” ignore it, for it is a misnomer, even if a customary designation.
From the sacred lips of our Lord Himself we learn the Hebrew and Chaldee Scriptures were divided into three groups: the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44), the latter including all of the literary scrolls as well as the book of Psalms itself.
Instead of calling one part of the Scriptures “Old” and the other “New,” it will be of great advantage to us to think of them as one. The fact that the later Scriptures are written in Greek should not place such a gulf between the two parts. Some portions of Daniel are in Chaldee. Do we therefore cut it off from the rest of the book? The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the Acts are concerned with the same people, the same nation, the same land, the same ritual which is brought before us in the Prophets. The advent of Messiah was a fulfillment of these, not a new departure. When we find it necessary to distinguish between the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures it were well if we simply indicate their difference in language and forbear insinuating differences in subject and purpose which do not exist. We will find, as we grow in the knowledge of the truth, that there is a much wider gulf between Paul’s epistles and the rest of the Greek Scriptures than can possibly be found between the other Greek books and the Hebrew Scriptures. The Unveiling of Jesus Christ, usually called the Revelation of St. John, has numerous points of contact with Daniel and the Prophets while it has hardly one with Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.
In their earliest form the books of Scripture were in the form of scrolls. If we find it necessary to mark the covers of our books to identify their contents, how much more necessary was it to mark the various scrolls which made up the Scriptures of those days, seeing that it was far more difficult to glance through them than a modern book. We understand, moreover, that they were given divine titles which were inspired quite as much as the text itself. In some cases the caption consists of the opening line. Then it has usually been repeated, as in the Song of Songs and in Isaiah.
Only those who have carefully considered the titles and addresses which precede the various scrolls of Scripture and have taken their message to heart can realize their importance and profit. It is because Christendom has deliberately ignored or basely perverted or suppressed these titles, that a great measure of the present day confusion exists. Let it be our pleasant and profitable task to examine the outside of the scrolls before delving into their contents. Then we will not go astray, because we have not refused the divine directions.
In our study we will take each divine division of the Scriptures, and each book in it, in divine order, when this is known. For man has not only touched the titles of the scrolls but has dared to displace them too. After a cursory glance at the Hebrew titles we will spend most of our endeavors in reading and digesting the addresses to the epistles of the apostles. There, we believe, is the greatest profit for all who sincerely wish to understand their Bibles aright.
THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
It hardly seems necessary to inquire “To whom were the Hebrew Scriptures written?” Yet there are few indeed who fully realize the exclusiveness of that revelation. Speaking on this subject, Paul is insistent that to them only were the divine oracles entrusted (Rom.8:2). He speaks of the other nations as being without law (Rom.2:14) and the law, covenants and promises as the peculiar heritage of Israel (Rom.9:4). We must read them then, as, first of all, for them, and ours only in the sense that, through them, we may learn to know their God Who has now become our God.
No satisfactory excuse has ever been offered for the fact that our English Bibles differ from the usual Hebrew Scriptures in the number and order of the books. That the Hebrew text as it is printed today is far more correct than ours is beyond dispute, for it has the books in such an order as will allow the grouping into the Law, the Prophets and the Literature.
THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
The Law, the Prophets, and the Literature
I. THE LAW
1. In the Beginning (Genesis).
2. These are the Names (Exodus).
3. And He Called (Leviticus).
4. In the Wilderness (Numbers).
5. These are the Words (Deuteronomy).
Kings The Latter
Ezekiel The Minor
Scrolls The Song of Songs Ruth How! (Lamentations) The Assembler (Ecclesiastes) Esther (A Star) Daniel Ezra (including Nehemiah) Commentaries, or, Words of the Days (Chronicles)
In the accompanying list we have the books in order, by groups, with their true titles as well as the usual name for the sake of identification. It will be seen that our versions have the Law as it should be (except titles) but we have thrust most of the Literature in between the Former and the Latter Prophets instead of leaving these scrolls at the end where they belong. The Literature itself has been thrown into disorder. The Commentaries (Chronicles), which close the Hebrew canon have been placed after Kings, probably to keep a sort of chronological sequence. Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah), the second from the last, follows for the same reason, as does Esther. Daniel is taken from the Literature and thrust in between the Major and the Minor Prophets.
Four scrolls, Samuel, Kings, Ezra and Chronicles, following the lead of the later Greek translators, have since each been split into two parts. There remains no real reason to maintain those divisions, save for current usage. In substance they are not divided, but are single books.
This name was not only applied to the ten commandments, but to all of the five books of Moses. This is its force in the oft repeated phrase “the law and the prophets” (Matt.7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16; Acts 24:16). Any passage in these books is referred to as being in the Law. The priests’ profanation of the Sabbath (Matt.12:5; Num.28:9,10), the consecration of the firstborn (Luke 2:23,24; Ex.13:2; 22:29; Num.8:17; Lev.12:8), the testimony of two witnesses (John 8:17; Deut.17:6)–all these are in “the Law,” though they are not in the decrees of Sinai.
Instead, then, of calling the five books of Moses the “Pentateuch,” or five-volume, which gives us no clue to its contents, let us call it, in fellowship with our Lord and His apostles, by the divinely sanctioned name, “the Law.”
The Law comprises the five books of Moses. Not only has the collection as a whole lost its real name, but the title to each book is practically unknown. To restore them now seems a hopeless task from the human standpoint. But we are conscious that such an attempt will please our God far more than if we were sure of success. The significance of some of the names may not dawn upon us at first. This only shows how far we are from understanding the purport of the books. The divine title is a talisman which will disclose our own ignorance and show us the way to a true understanding of each of the sacred scrolls.
The title to four of the Mosaic scrolls consists of the opening words of the text, “In the Beginning” for Genesis, “And These are the Names” for Exodus, “And He Called” for Leviticus, and “These are the Words” for Deuteronomy. The title of Numbers is taken from the first sentence, “In the Wilderness.” The usual names are taken from the Greek version, commonly called the Septuagint, or LXX, from the tradition that it was translated by seventy scholars.
IN THE BEGINNING
The first book is fitly called “In the Beginning.” The ordinary name, “Genesis,” suggests a birth, rather than a creation, a renewal, rather than a beginning. It transcends and offends the human intellect to go back to a definite commencement, which involves the idea of God. Man much prefers to lose himself in a misty past without any God. He has no objection to genesis, but refuses creation. Hence he has given this book, which refutes his philosophy, a name which harmonizes with it. He corrupts the Word of God at its very start.
The creature can generate; God alone originates. Apart from the revelations concerning the heavens given through the apostle Paul, this book begins everything concerned with the human race on the earth. Not only are the heavens and the earth traced back to their true source, God, but the whole human family is traced back to Adam and to the sons of Noah. The chosen nation is seen in Abraham–a perishing Syrian (Deut.26:5), and in Israel, with his twelve sons. “Genesis” is rightly named by its great Author “In the Beginning.”
AND THESE ARE THE NAMES
God’s names go to the heart of things; man’s touch the surface. We have a sample of this in the book before us. It deals with the sons of Israel’s sufferings in Egypt, the call of Moses and Aaron, the judgment of Egypt, the exodus from Egypt, the defeat of Pharaoh, the wanderings in the wilderness, the laws of Sinai, the building of the tabernacle, etc., Why should we take one incident out of all these for the title of the book?
In the book of the Beginning we had many names, many nations. Now God is confining Himself to one nation, the names of the sons of Jacob. The book deals not only with their separation from the other nations (of which the exodus was the climax) but their communion with Himself. This is the real object of His dealings with them. Why did He deal so harshly with the Egyptians? Why did He bring them into the wilderness? That they might be His and become acquainted with Him. “You have seen,” He says, “what I did to the Egyptians, when I bore you on vultures’ wings, and brought you to Myself” (Ex.19:4). And again, “you will become Mine, a special possession, above all of the peoples, for Mine is all the earth. As for you, you shall become Mine, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex.19:5,6). He has redeemed a nation for Himself. The redemption and the exodus were the means by which He brought them into His presence and blessing. And what better way than to acknowledge the names of those whom He so highly honors? Our friends are known to us by name; strangers do not know our name, nor we theirs. So, while the world wanders away from Him, He calls those by name whom He has chosen for His own. What better name can we find for “Exodus” than “These are the Names”?
AND HE CALLED
The third book of Moses (for their order is undoubtedly divine as well as their titles) is headed “And He Called.” This is the first word in the Hebrew text, the name Yahweh, or “the LORD,” coming at the end of the clause. In “These are the Names” He chose Israel and brought them to Himself in the wilderness. Now He calls them into still closer fellowship and worship.
Nearness to Him demands that sin be put away. Holiness unsullied becomes those who answer His call. Hence the initial offering of all is the korban, or oblation, sometimes called the approach offering. And, indeed, what are all the offerings and ritual for but to make it possible for them to respond to His call? Some fondly nurse the dream that men have the will and the way to find Him without a divine call or sacrifice. But, alas, it is only too true that “not one is seeking out God” (Rom.3:11). and He would still dwell solitary if He had not called and equipped those He has invited for the unsullied light of His presence.
IN THE WILDERNESS
The name of the fourth book is so apt that it seems strange that anyone should think of changing it. Unlike the other books, it is not the very first word of the text but a phrase in the first sentence. Throughout the book we are “In the Wilderness” and the moment we approach the promised land the book ends. Here it is not the presence or worship of Yahweh which is the subject, but the trials and dangers of the wilderness, as well as the will of their own hearts. All who come out of Egypt, except Caleb and Joshua, die in the wilderness.
There are, indeed, two numberings of the sons of Israel in this book, but there is little to be learned from that fact alone. When we find that the second numbering included none of those numbered at Sinai except Caleb and Joshua, the significance of this book begins to dawn upon us. The carcasses of those who came out of Egypt were strewn along the way in the wilderness. This is the keynote of the book. The personal relation to Yahweh found in the scrolls of the Names (Exodus) and the Calling (Leviticus) is no longer before us. The very numbering of the people shows this, for it suggests confidence in numbers rather than in Yahweh. But numbers can only hinder Him, so they are laid aside. He was vexed with that faithless generation. If they had believed Him there would never have been such a book as this. A few days would have brought them to the land of promise. So that the very name implies apostasy and defection. If the two previous books show their relationship and nearness to Yahweh, this scroll dilates on the distance of their hearts in spite of all His mighty acts and glorious presence.
THESE ARE THE WORDS
Both the title and the contents of the fifth book of Moses remind us of Chronicles, so-called, which is properly named “Words of the Days.” These two books are divine commentaries. They are God’s Words concerning events which have already been related from the historical standpoint. In contrast with “These are the Names” (Exodus) which tells us how Yahweh brought them out of Egypt, this book tells us much of His bringing them in to the promised land. But our greatest profit will come if, in accord with its title, we read this book as Yahweh’s comments on the way of the wilderness and the laws of the land.
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