Before the days of computers and smart phones, there were typewriters and rotary phones. Even though that seems so long ago, I’ve experienced both in my lifetime. All of my grandparents were born in the 19th century and grew up without typewriters and phones. I’ve read some of the things they wrote in letters and in family Bibles and noticed their skill in written communication, even though many of them did not have a high school education. In fact, many in my family did not graduate from elementary school. Their ability to write clearly surpassed the writing skills of most people today. Writing original materials and making clear, legible copies of those writings are skills that have been known and taught for thousands of years. We can see that in our recent history with the printing press, but long before that there were scribes.
Writing developed in Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago. As writing became important to governments and religious groups, scribes played an increasingly important role in society. Their professional writing skills helped keep permanent records for kings, queens, governors, judges, tax collectors, priests, and wealthy families. Sacred texts were carefully copied to ensure the longevity of communication from generation to generation. Scribes were experts in how to make certain that exact copies were kept of important documents.
We see the importance of making accurate copies of the Old Testament in many passages of Scripture. It was also important that Israel’s kings made their own copies of the Law of Moses, read it all the days of their lives, and do what God commanded.
“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” Deuteronomy 17:18-20
As we read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, we see that copies of the Scriptures were available to the people for centuries. It was the job of the official scribes to ensure that every copy of the Old Testament writings was accurate. They used skins from clean animals to write on and the ink had to be black and of a special recipe. Every column of writing had to have between 48 and 60 lines. The scribes spoke each word as they were writing to make sure they were writing and spelling it correctly. Each document went through a review process within 30 days of copying. The review included counting the number of letters, words, and paragraphs. If mistakes were found, the copy was not used. Only those copies that successfully passed the review process were kept. Those copies were stored carefully in safe places.
Israel has a long history with the Law of Moses. There were times when Jews obeyed the Law and times when they didn’t. There were times when they forgot about the Law and times when they remembered the Law. One example is when the Law was rediscovered during the reign of King Josiah.
“Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.’ And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, ‘Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the LORD.’ Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read it before the king. Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, ‘Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” 2 Kings 22:8-13
Rediscovering the written Law of Moses sometimes led to a revival in Israel. People recognized it as the written Word of God and it shook them to their core – as well it should.
In the next part of our study, we’ll look at what proof we have that the Old Testament in use by Christians today is the same as the original writings of Moses and the Prophets.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”