This Christian Journey:


The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament

By Dr. Walter D. Huyck Jr.


In early 1947[1] a Bedouin shepherd, while trying to find a goat that had wandered off, happened to find a cave containing leather bound scrolls.[2]  These scrolls contained documents placed there by the Essene community in the first and second centuries BC and the first century AD.  Once the value of these ancient scrolls was realized they lead to the exploration of the more than 250 caves surrounding this first cave.  As a result over six hundred writings were found in eleven different caves in the Qumran area.[3]  These scrolls came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Discovery of cave one yielded a complete copy of Isaiah, a partial Isaiah, a Habakkuk commentary, The Manual of Discipline, Thanksgiving Hymns, a Genesis Apocryphon and Wars of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (an account of a real or spiritual war between some of the Hebrew tribes and tribes of Jordan).

The discovery of the documents in cave one stimulated exploration of nearly 300 caves in the vicinity of Cave one, which resulted in the discovery of eleven other caves containing documents similar to those found in the first cave.  In Cave two there were about one hundred fragments of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Psalms, and Ruth. Cave three contained what some call a treasure map, known as the copper scrolls, with directions to sites where treasure was located. To date none of this treasure has been found. Cave four contained fragments of about one hundred biblical scrolls representing all of the Old Testament books except Esther. A fragment of Samuel, dating to the third century b.c. and believed to be the oldest known piece of biblical Hebrew, came from this cave. Caves five through ten had a variety of scroll fragments too diverse to list here.  Cave eleven contained portions of Psalms and Leviticus. The former included forty-eight psalms, of which forty-one were biblical and seven were non-biblical.  Miller Burrows, in his work “The Dead Sea Scrolls,” gives a detailed account of the discovery of the scrolls.[4]

These scrolls consisted of a large number of previously unknown writings that include a manual of discipline, a thanksgiving hymnal, and the rule of the community.  The scrolls also include numerous Old Testament texts that push back the history of the Old Testament text by nearly a thousand years.  A complete list of the documents discovered can be found in the index of “The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition.”[5] 

It is thought that the scrolls were placed in the caves by those who once lived a community now known as the Khirbet Qumran ruin, located on a plateau between Cave four and the Dead Sea. Apparently this was the center of a celibate religious community responsible for copying and assembling the library found in the eleven caves. Many scholars have classified them as Essenes.

Dating the scrolls focused upon the estimated date of this community as well as five other lines of evidence, these include: 

  1. Carbon 14 tests on the linen wrappings of the scrolls (c. 327 B.C. – A.D. 73).

  2. Linguistic analysis of the documents found in the caves.

  3. Comparative paleography (the science of handwriting).

  4. Coins found in the community, dating from 325 b.c. to a.d. 68.

  5. Pottery Chronology for the jars in which the scrolls were found.

Scholars believe that “the Dead Sea Scrolls were most likely written by the Essenes during the period from about 200 B.C. to 68 C.E./A.D.”[6]

The value of these scrolls in biblical studies has moderated with the translation of the documents.  In the 1950’s and early 1960’s there was a swell of enthusiasm surrounding the documents and what they might contain.  Some scholars and publications published documents that were premature to the diligent study of the documents.  Some of these statements are still present today.  For instance, in his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, John Allegro tries to explain apparent miss quotes in the New Testament text by comparing them to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He uses the example of Matthew 2:6 when compared to Micah 5:2 and indicates that the language used by the New Testament authors is more consistent with that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  His assumption is that since this language was in use in the Essene community then “it seems not improbable that they were also in use by certain sections of the church.” [7]  The problem is that the Qumran scrolls have no apparent connection to the New Testament or its authors.

However, as time passed scholars began to realize that the things contained in these scrolls may have been more exaggerated than originally anticipated.  In his work Second Thoughts On The Dead Sea Scrolls, Bruce notes that when the authors of the scrolls were writing on scriptural interpretation the comments written were often distorted for the sake of the circumstances surrounding their current situation.  Considering this Bruce writes, “The Qumran commentaries plainly do not give us much help in understanding the Old Testament.”[8]  When comparing the Temple Scroll to the works of Josephus, Lawrence H. Sciffman concluded, “the Essene community often presented a utopian view of what the temple should have been rather than reality.”[9]  Thus leading us to carefully evaluate any conclusions we might draw from these scrolls.

All things considered it would be wise for us to remember that the Essene community represented a very small group of legalistic people that felt that they needed to separate themselves from society altogether.  They moved to their remote location in Qumran and developed customs and traditions that could only be found within their community.  Therefore, it would be wise for us to carefully consider the discoveries that might be found in their documents.  Some things that we know about this community includes:

  1. They were exclusive in that only those that were a part of their sect could be accepted by God.  “They viewed themselves as the only true elect of Israel -- they alone were faithful to the Law.”[10]

  2. They opposed the Jewish High Priest and referred to him as the “Wicked-Priest.”  This priest was probably one of the Maccabean rulers.

Can we ascribe the Essene way of life to the common Jew in Palestine?  It would seem unlikely that the practices of the Essenes would have been those of the common Palestinian people so far removed from them.  It would be difficult to attribute the beliefs of the Essenes to the religious sects  (Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes) outside of their community, non-the-less to the common people.  So that the documents found in the Dead Sea Scrolls literally become the sacred writings of the Essenes.

Yet, there is valuable information contained within these documents.  As far as the Old Testament is concerned these scrolls contain copies of every Old Testament book with the exception of Esther.  Since these scrolls predate anything previously available in ancient manuscripts by a thousand years, and since there are virtually no differences between the manuscripts found at Qumran and those currently in hand, we find that the accuracy in the transmission of the Biblical text is astoundingly preserved.  This would lead reasonable people to believe that if the Old Testament text were so carefully preserved, then perhaps the New Testament text has been accurately preserved as well.  After all this is God’s promise toward us: 

“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.  Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” (Psalm 12.6-7)[11] 

The accurate transmission of the biblical text is possibly the most compelling contribution of the Qumran scrolls.  Of all of the arguments that have taken hold upon Christian people the one surrounding the accuracy of the word of God must be of the utmost importance.  Professors in our seminaries teach our future men of God that we only have the spirit of God’s Word and not the inerrant Word of God.  In doing so they challenge the authority of the written Word of God at its very foundation.  Many teach that it would be impossible for the written Word of God to be accurately transcribed by pens held in so many human hands without inevitable errors finding their way in.  Yet, here we have evidence, the Old Testament has been miraculously preserved.  Documents separated in time by over a thousand years provide irrefutable evidence that it is indeed possible to maintain a written text with amazing accuracy. 

How could this happen?  There can be only one explanation, divine influence!  God must have providentially intervened and guided the eyes, minds, and hands of the men involved in the process of transcribing His Word in order to maintain the accuracy of His revelation.  If God would take the time and expend the effort to inspire Godly men to write His Holy Word, why wouldn’t He providentially intervene to preserve it?  It ought to be our deepest conviction from these findings that God’s Word is still with us and is therefore worthy of a place of authority in our lives.

When this startling truth is applied to the New Testament we find ourselves in the middle of a twenty-first century dilemma.  If God would so meticulously preserve the text of the Old Testament, would He be any less concerned with the New Testament?  It is clear that God’s promises to maintain the accuracy of His written Word are contained in the New Testament as well.  For instance, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” (1 Pet 1.25a), and “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt 5.18)  These verses indicate God intention to maintain His revelation.  Therefore, an accurate written text must still exist today, and indeed it does.

What does this revelation do for the modern church?  It reestablishes the authority of God’s written Word by removing the vain arguments of those that would elevate the corrupting nature of mankind over the providential ability of Almighty-God.  God is able to keep His promises and has provided irrefutable evidence of His success.  How can we continue to doubt the preservation of God’s Word?

When comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls specifically to the New Testament William LaSor discovered that “there is little or no historical material in the Qumran texts . . . not a single person, date, or event is mentioned in common in both sets of documents, hence there is no occasion for either to confirm or decry the other.”[12]  It appears that there is little to link Christianity to the Essene community beyond their initial origin of Judaism.  As “it seems clear that the early church was not in communication, much less in communion, with Qumran.”[13]  Therefore, while the Qumran scrolls provide some background for sectarian Judaism and some comparison for Christianity to other religious groups in the area.  The movements were quite removed from each other and the Qumran scrolls disprove nothing in Christianity.

The evidence suggests that the Qumran scrolls have provided very little direct influence upon the New Testament.  Scholars have noted that any possible direct influence is limited to an understanding of the Sacraments, the light-darkness motif, and possibly the orientation for prayer and building.  Yet, “no such strong case can be developed at this time for other alleged influences.”[14]  Therefore, any alleged direct influence of these scrolls upon the New Testament is limited at best.

Menahem Mansor writes, “We may say that the paramount importance of the scrolls to New Testament studies is that they add to our knowledge and understanding of the immediate pre-Christian era and give us a more precise insight into the life and faith of one of the sects living in the second and first centuries B.C.”[15]  Which once again draws us away from a New Testament application of the scrolls and focuses us upon a separatist Jewish religious sect.  Once again, I would caution the reader to remember, that the Essene community represented a small minority and that the views expressed by this community may have been quite different from the commonly accepted views of their day.

But there are still those who claim to find extensive value in the scrolls.  Eerdman’s Dictionary Of The Bible states that “because of similarities in language, theological themes, characters, texts, and practices are pervasive, the scrolls provide inexhaustible illumination for understanding the text and world of the NT and early Christianity.”[16]  Considering that there are significant texts on various religious themes such as salvation by the works of the law or salvation by faith.  We can make comparisons of New Testament passages, such as, Paul’s discourse concerning the righteous living by faith, in Galatians three, to various texts in the Qumran scrolls.  While the views of the Essenes are quite different from the Christian perspective concerning these topics, the scrolls can help us to understand some of the Jewish arguments opposed to our views.  Still the amount of illumination and understanding is more restricted than indicated in the previously mentioned dictionary.

One point of interest touched on by Harper’s Bible Dictionary surrounds the use of several titles used in the New Testament concerning Jesus Christ.  While some hold that many of the titles applied to Christ are the result of the Greco-Roman influence upon the authors of the New Testament, upon examining the Dead Sea Scrolls we find “several titles applied to Jesus in the NT (‘Son of God,’ ‘Son of Man,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Christ’); thus these titles apparently were not the product of hellenization.”[17]  The Apostles would have most likely been familiar with these terms as they were terms that were a part of their religious tradition.  Therefore, we find that these terms were an accepted part of Judaism before the Greco-Roman culture could impact their religious traditions.



Having diligently studied the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their subsequent study we can come to the following conclusions.  First, the greatest impact that the scrolls have provided is that they establish the accurate preservation of the Old Testament text over an extended period of time.  This discovery also lends itself to the argument that the New Testament text has most likely been diligently preserved as well.

Next, these scrolls help us to further understand some of the Judeo-Christian terms that have become apart of our theology.  They also help us to develop a better understanding of the impact of hellenization upon the titles applied to our Lord.  Apparently, the roots of titles like “Son of God,” Son of Man,” “Lord,” “Prophet,” and “Christ” extend to a time period prior to that which allows for their adoption from the Greco-Roman culture.

Lastly, when considering the impact of the scrolls upon the New Testament.  We must conclude that our cultural understanding of the period, as a result of the scrolls, is limited to that of the Essene community at Qumran.  It would be difficult to apply the context of the scrolls beyond this community because they were so secluded from common society, and their documents often exaggerated the situations addressed to the benefit of their utopian views.  Therefore, the historical reliability of the scrolls is questionable.




[1] Jeff Berry, “Today, 2000 Years Latter” [database online] available from


[2] New Ungers Bible Dictionary, 1998 , s.v. “The Dead Sea Scrolls.”


[3] The Dead Sea Scrolls And The Christian Faith, ed. James H. Charlesworth and Walter P. Weaver (Harrisburg, Trinity Press International, 1998), 61.


[4] Millar Burrow, “The Dead Sea Scrolls” (New York, The Viking Press, 1955) 3-28, 54-69.


[5] The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. Florention Garcia Martinez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelar (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998) 2:1311-1323.


[6] “25 Facinating Facts Concerning The Dead Sea Scrolls” [database on-line] available from


[7] John Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1964) 156.


[8] F.F. Bruce, Second Thoughts On The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966) 79.


[9] Lawerence H. Schiffman, Historical Perspectives: From The Hasmoneans To Bar Kokhba In The Light Of The Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. David Goodblant, Avital Pinnick, and Daniel R. Schwartz (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2001)  82.


[10] Will Varner, “Discovery Of The Scrolls” [database on-line] (Associates For Biblical Research, 1999) available from


[11] Bible quotation come from the King James Bible.


[12] William Sanford LaSor, The Dead Sea Scrolls And The New Testament (Grand Repaids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992) 254.


[13] A.N. Gilkes, “The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (New York, Macmillian and Co., 1962) 158.


[14] Carl G. Howie, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Living Church” (Richmond, John Knox Press, 1958) 111.


[15] Menahem Mansor, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Wm. B, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964) 154.


[16] Eerdman’s Dictionary Of The Bible,  2000, s.v. “Dead Sea Scrolls.”


[17] Harper Bible Dictionary, 1985, s.v. “Dead Sea Scrolls.”