Did the disciples have access to the scrolls in the temples after Jesus died?

Q. Did the disciples have access to the scrolls in the temples after Jesus died?

I think you may be asking about this to know how the disciples were able to preach about Jesus from the Scriptures after his resurrection and how the New Testament authors knew how to appeal to the Scriptures when explaining the work of Jesus in light of the plan of God.

I also think that by “temples” you may mean the synagogues. There was only one temple in New Testament times, the temple in Jerusalem. But there were synagogues in cities throughout Judea and Galilee and in many other parts of the Roman Empire. And while most individuals in these days did not own copies of the Scriptures, since those were hand-copied, rare, and expensive, these synagogues seem to have had their own scrolls of the biblical books.

For example, Luke tells us in his gospel how Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and “stood up to read” and “the synagogue assistant gave him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.” Standing up was a sign that Jesus wanted to speak to the people gathered in the synagogue, and presumably the assistant brought Jesus the Isaiah scroll at his request, since Jesus then read a passage from Isaiah and spoke about it.

To give another example, Luke tells us in the book of Acts that Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch one Sabbath day. There was a “reading from the Law and the Prophets,” and the synagogue leader then invited Paul and Barnabas to speak. In this case “the Law and the Prophets” likely means the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, there was probably one reading from somewhere in the Scriptures, rather than two readings, one from the Law and one from the Prophets. Many interpreters believe that when Paul spoke on that occasion, he referred to the passage that had been read, but since Paul quoted five different passages, it is unclear which one this actually was. It is interesting to note, however, that Paul also referred generally to “the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.” Here “prophets” probably also means “Scriptures,” so Paul’s comment shows once again that people in New Testament times could hear the Scriptures regularly in the synagogues.

And it seems that it was also possible for people to consult the copies of the Scriptures that the synagogues owned. When Paul and Silas shared about Jesus with the people in the synagogue in Berea, Luke tells us, the people there “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” So it seems that outside of the regular meetings in which the Scriptures were read publicly, people could also consult the Scriptures privately. It was also possible to study the Scriptures with a rabbi, who may have owned his own copies. Paul told the people in Jerusalem, “I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors.”

So the New Testament itself shows us that the disciples and New Testament authors would have had access to the Scriptures by several means, and so they would have been able to learn what they said and reflect on their meaning in order to proclaim the person and work Jesus in light of God’s preceding redemptive work.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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