Jesus’ Bible
by Jim Myers

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What scriptures did Jesus teach from? Before you answer, please let me share one of the most important lessons I have learned since beginning my study of language - Pay special attention to words which are very familiar to you!

                    What word is more familiar to any Christian than the word "scripture." It is a word that is so familiar to most of us that when we see it we automatically assign our meaning to it: it means "our Christian Bible." So the answer that most of us would give to the above question is "Jesus taught from the same Bible as ours."

Jesus’ Bible Wasn’t English

                    Jesus taught in the land of Israel during the first century of the common era. If you had walked the roads of Israel with Jesus you would have heard a number of different languages being spoken by the people - Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin - but one language that you would not have heard was English.

                    English, especially our American version, was an unknown language in the land of Israel during the first century. The first English Bible wouldn’t appear until 1388 A.D. with the Wycliffe Translation. The first edition of the King James Bible wasn’t completed until 1611 A.D. and there have been several revisions of it since then.

                    The language that the words of Jesus’ scriptures were written in was Hebrew. His scriptures were not in a book, but were written on scrolls. The scrolls were very expensive and copies were kept at the Temple and in synagogues.

                    Even though much of this must seem to be just common sense, the fact of the matter is that American English speakers usually do not think about it when they read the words of Jesus in their English translation of the Bible. Most of us automatically form a mental picture of Jesus teaching his disciples in English.

The Books of Jesus’ Bible

                    The Bible as Jesus knew it consisted of some twelve to twenty scrolls of different sizes. On those scrolls were written 39 books which were divided into three major groups - Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim. Below are the books found in each section:

1. Torah (Law)

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

2. Nevi'im (Prophets)

Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.

3. Ketuvim (Writings)

Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and I & II Chronicles. Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and I & II Chronicles.  

                   Just knowing the above information about the culture of Jesus will help you more accurately understand the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:17:

Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

                    When Jesus said "Law" and "Prophets" he was referring to two sections of the Jewish scriptures, the sacred writings of Israel. They were Jesus’ Bible. However, something that most of us fail to consider when we think about Jesus’ Bible is that it did not include the New Testament. It is a historical fact that the New Testament had not been written yet.

                    Can you imagine church without a New Testament? What would happen at your church if you didn’t use a New Testament? Wouldn’t you wonder what they talked about? Obviously the services at the Early Church were different from those held today.

The Tanakh

                    Today the Jewish Bible is known as the Tanakh. It is a word created by taking the first letter of each of the three sections and then adding vowels and a final "h."

Torah + Nevi’im + Ketuvim=orah + Nevi’im + Ketuvim=

T T a N a K h

                    The Jewish collection of sacred books will come to be called the Old Testament by future Christians. However, for the first one-hundred years of Church history, it will be the "Only Testament." It would also play a major role in the weekly Sabbath synagogue service.

Jesus at the Synagogue

"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah . . ." (Luke 4:16-17).

                    The Sabbath day in Israel began at sundown on Friday and ended at sundown on Saturday. During that time people either rested in a home or attended services held at a synagogue. If we had wanted to find Jesus on the Sabbath we would have had to go to someone’s home or, at specific times, go to one of the synagogues. Luke verifies that Jesus did exactly what we would have predicted - "as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day."

                   The synagogue service on the Sabbath would consist of communal group study of various collections from the Jewish sacred books. During the service different people would be called up to the front where they would stand and read from a scroll of the Torah or the Prophets. Again, we find Jesus doing exactly what we would have expected in Israel during that time: ". . . and (Jesus) stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah."

                    We are now very fortunate to have access to culturally accurate information about the ancient world in which Jesus lived. As we read the words from Luke we are able to understand what Jesus was doing, why he was doing it, and even how it was to be done. But sadly, for many centuries, generations of Christians have not had access to the historically and linguistically accurate information we have today. As a result, many misunderstandings have taken place over the years and earlier generations have, in many cases, misinterpreted the events recorded in the New Testament.

The Old in the New

                    The New Testament contains many quotes from the Tanakh. When people read the words of Jesus as he quotes from the Tanakh, they do not realize that he is not reading the New Testament, nor is he teaching or preaching from the New Testament - he was quoting from his Jewish scriptures.

                    What were Jesus’ favorite books of the Tanakh? Based on the information in our gospels Jesus quotes from the five books of Moses, the prophet Isaiah, and the book of the Psalms. Isaiah seems to have been the one he read the most.

                    The Jewish scriptures were the stuff out of which Jesus created his teaching and his preaching. It is only later of course, much later, that the creation of books that you and I call the gospels, or you and I call the New Testament, will begin. Even after the process of creating the New Testament starts, it will be over 250 years before the group of books that we now find in the New Testament will become the "official" scriptures of the Church.

                    But don’t forget that even though the form of our modern New Testament appears in the late fourth century A.D., it will take another thousand years before Wycliffe comes along to make the first English translation. Of course, we must also remember that no matter how good a translation is - it is still just a translation. Many of the earlier translators never had access to the culturally, historically, and linguistically accurate information that we have available today. We are truly living at one of the most exciting times in history!                                                   

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