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Chapter 25

The Dead Sea Scrolls

 

While the Dead Sea Scrolls are not central to a book on the modern translations, they do have some peripheral impact.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were initially discovered in caves near the Dead Sea in 1947. Hundreds of scrolls were discovered, some dating back to 400 B.C. Every Old Testament book with the exception of Esther has been found among these scrolls, although not all in their entirety. In addition to Bible passages, the scrolls included many secular manuscripts, for this find represented the library of the Essene community living in Qumran from about 130 B.C. to A.D. 68. The settlement was eventually destroyed by the Romans just two years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. A second group lived nearby at Masada. These the Romans destroyed in A.D. 72, while the third settlement at Murabbaat survived until A.D. 132 when this community too fell to Roman arms at the time of the Second Jewish Revolt.

Recognizing that they were facing perilous times, these people hid their precious scrolls in almost inaccessible caves. This action must be evaluated in the knowledge that, so precious was Godís Word to them that when the scrolls became unusable they were buried, a type of funeral service being said over the scroll.

The great significance of this archeological discovery is that it provided evidence of the Old Testament text at the time of Christ or even earlier. One evangelist has reported on his conversation with the director of the museum examining the Dead Sea Scrolls. The evangelist stated:

As the director of the Jerusalem Museum assured us that they had found manuscripts or fragments of all the books of the Old Testament, I asked him if there was any difference between these ancient manuscripts and our present Bible. He quickly answered, "There is virtually no difference. In practically all things they are exactly the same as the Authorized Version. You can take that for certain," he assured me personally. Whatís All This About The Dead Sea Scrolls?, G. Burnside, 4

Professor Frank Cross confirmed that

Not only in Isaiah, but in other prophetic books, indeed in the entire Old Testament, we must now assume that the Old Testament text was stabilized early, and that late recensional activities were of only slight effect. This conclusion, of course, powerfully supports textual scholars of conservative persuasion. The Christian Century, August 11, 1955, 920, quoted in The Dead Sea Scrolls, G. Burnside, 5

In confirmation, another authority stated:

In the latter years of the nineteenth century the champions of Christianity were mainly on the defensive. Natural science was in the heyday of the progress which took its rise in the discoveries and doctrine of Darwin. At the same time within the sphere of religious study itself a school of thought asserted itself which questioned the authenticity and trustworthiness of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and applied the utmost freedom of skepticism to their narratives. Against this attitude the state of our knowledge of biblical archeology did not supply arguments which could effectively convince those who did not wish to be convinced. The advocates of the Christian faith fought at a disadvantage and were on the defensive. Now all this is changed, and the point I want to make is that we are no longer on the defensive. It is no longer the Christian scholar who is out of date. The up-to-date scholars are now those who recognize the authenticity and authority of the Christian literature. It is the critics who formerly claimed to be advanced, who are now belated and behind the times. Sir Frederick Kenyon, former head of the manuscript department of the British Museum in his presidential address to the Victoria Institute, quoted in The Dead Sea Scrolls, G. Burnside, 7

A scroll of great significance is the Isaiah scroll, which is in excess of twenty-four feet in length, and contains Isaiahís entire prophecy. Higher critics had long held that Isaiah was written by separate authors, one writing the first thirty-nine chapters and the other the remainder. The basis for this speculation was that the fortieth chapter focuses on the Babylonian exile which occurred over one hundred years after Isaiahís death. Faithful students of Scripture have long discarded such theorizing, believing rather that Isaiah wrote a prophetic message under divine guidance. Let it not be overlooked that the New Testament writers quoted both sections of Isaiah and ascribed the quotations to his pen. Jesus Himself quoted from both the early and the latter sections of the book, identifying Isaiah as the author of both.

And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. [Jesus is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10.] Matthew 13:14.

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. [Jesus was quoting Isaiah 53:4.] Matthew 8:17

Thus when the Isaiah scroll was discovered it was eagerly examined for clues to settle the dispute. All evidence indicated that the book was written by a single author. There was absolutely no evidence of a distinction between the thirty-ninth and the fortieth chapters, no break in the material. Nor has the least evidence of separate authors been identified in the more than one dozen other copies of Isaiah discovered. While these findings do not provide proof beyond dispute, they accord with the writers of the New Testament who, we assert, do provide irrefutable evidence.

Yet it is men of higher critical bent who have been most active in planning and supporting new Bible translations. They have been wrong in their every attack on Scripture, and they cause great harm when their opinions are accepted in the matter of biblical translation.

Of course, a further matter of great significance is that the discovery of the Isaiah scroll, copied about 150 B.C., provided absolute certainty that the precise Messianic prophecies of Isaiah were indeed written long before Christís birth (the Septuagint translation around the same period also confirms the matter). This evidence of Christís Messiahship is outstanding.

It is rather sad to find in their writings that while the members of these communities were avidly studying the Messianic prophecies, yet the Messiah came during their era and they were totally oblivious of it. In their earnest search these Essenes came to the conclusion that they could anticipate four Messiahsóone a king in the line of David, one a priest of the Levitical rite, another a prophet in the mold of Moses, and last a Messiah of the order of Melchizedek. How close these men were to the truth! If only they could have fused these four "Messiahs" in their minds! But they could conceive neither of a priest of the tribe of Judah, nor of a prophet who was also a conquering king. But in Jesus was their kingly Prophet and Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Interestingly, in their commentaries on Melchizedek, these men recognized his role in judgment. One scroll states:

Melchizedek shall exact the vengeance of the judgments of God from the hand of Belial and from the hands of all the spirits of his lot.

When Hebrews chapters 5 and 7 are read we discover that the conclusions of these people were not far from the truth. Yet they tragically failed to recognize the One they earnestly sought.

At the time of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the oldest Hebrew text known was copied in the ninth century after Christ. Thus the Dead Sea Scrolls were up to one thousand years older than the earliest Hebrew manuscripts used by the King James translators. The same translators had been able to utilize manuscripts four hundred years older for their translation of the New Testament. Yet we find that God in His goodness had so preserved His Word that those ninth-century copies almost exactly accorded with those of one thousand years earlier. This powerful testimony should establish the faith of Godís people in His power to preserve the Word of God, whether it be the Hebrew text of the Old Testament or the Greek text of the New Testament. There are many such lessons to be underscored in the minds of Bible students who cast doubts upon the majority text.

 


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