A question that many people ask is, “how did we get the Bible?” After all, if Christians are going to center their lives around the the Bible and it’s teachings, then it seems like a good idea to know how the Bible came into existence. Knowing how we got the Bible can also strengthen our faith and help us to effectively communicate what we believe to others. So with this in mind, let’s take a look at how the Bible came into being.
The Canon of Scripture
“And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:4 NKJ).
The books of the Bible that are officially recognized as Scripture are referred to as the canon (pronounced “cannon”) of Scripture. This word means “rule” or “rod of measurement.” Over time, this term came to refer to the collection of Biblical books that were recognized as having authority from God.
How Did We Get The Old Testament Canon Of Scripture?
In Exodus 24:4 we’re told that Moses wrote down everything that God had spoken to him. This was the very beginning of the canon of Scripture. In fact, Exodus 31:18 tells us that the portion of the Old Testament containing the Ten Commandments was personally written by God Himself!
Perhaps the most important reason for getting the Word of God down in written form was so that everyone would clearly know and understand their responsibility to do what God said (see Deuteronomy 31:24-27). The early existence of the first five books of the Old Testament (known all together as “The Law”) is confirmed by the fact that God’s people knew about their teachings even before the time of Joshua (see Joshua 8:30-31).
Later on, the Word of God took the form of chronological records (such as the genealogies found in various books), historical accounts (Esther), poetry (Psalms), prophetic statements (Isaiah, Daniel and others) and common-sense collections of wisdom (Proverbs). Some believe that a priest named Ezra (who was skilled and knowledgeable in the Law of God- see Ezra 7:6, 10) played a large part in collecting the books of the Law and the Prophets and putting them all together.
The Bible was partially or completely written on many different materials including stone (Exodus 34:1) and gold (Exodus 39:30), as well as paper-like materials and ink (Jeremiah 36:17-18). Now writing on stone and wood may sound very primitive in our age of computers, text-messaging, and fax machines but the fact is that these materials served their purpose very well- God’s Word was preserved for future generations to read and learn from, even to this day.
Over time, the various books of the Old Testament were collected and assembled into their present form. Scholar-types tell us that ancient sources such as the Septuagint (a ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek) indicate that these Old Testament writings were recognized as being inspired by God as early as 250 B.C.
How Did We Get The New Testament Canon Of Scripture?
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24 NIV).
At first, the teachings of Jesus were communicated by word of mouth. For example, the Apostle Paul spoke to large numbers of people during his missionary trips and the other apostles verbally presented the Gospel during their travels. But as the church grew and the Apostles weren’t available (or began to pass away), it became necessary to have a written record of these teachings.
How did this occur? Well, men such as Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude communicated by writing letters- either to a specific church or for general distribution among many churches. We have some of those very letters today in the form of books such as Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and the letters bearing the names of those mentioned above. Other New Testament authors communicated the teachings of Jesus for the benefit of a specific audience (see Luke 1:1-5). These were later copied and passed around among the churches of that day.
As these writings began to spread, first-century Christians gained the ability to read the Old Testament along with an genuine report about the life and teachings of Jesus. In fact, it’s thought that the practice of copying and circulating the Scriptures may have started at the church in the town of Thessalonica sometime around the middle of the 1st century.
You see, the Thessalonians already had two letters from Paul which we know today as 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Since the town of Philippi was located fairly close to the town of Thessalonica, it would have been easy for someone from the Thessalonian church to pick up a copy of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (which we know today as the Biblical book of Philippians) and give the Philippians copies of the letters that they already had. In fact, Paul himself suggested this very sort of thing when he said in Colossians 4:16, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”
So over time, the people who received the books of the New Testament saved each one and copied it for the benefit of others. Gradually all 27 books were collected and officially accepted as a group. This whole process took about 350 years.
Who Decided What Books Belonged In The Bible?
In future studies we’ll talk about the inspiration of God’s Word and the reliability of the Scriptures. But for now, let’s look at the question of who decided which books belonged in the Bible. The short answer to this question is that it was God who made that decision; in other words, God is the One who is responsible for deciding which books belonged in the Bible.
Now it’s true that some believe that a bunch of people got together in the distant past to decide which books were “good enough” to make it into the Bible and which books weren’t but this just isn’t the case. You see, humanity’s only responsibility was to simply recognize the books that God had already inspired and not to decide which books were in and which were out. To make this easier to understand, think of it like this: Albert Einstein didn’t invent the theory of relativity, right? Einstein simply discovered it. Isaac Newton didn’t invent gravity; he discovered it. Benjamin Franklin didn’t invent electricity by flying a kite in a thunderstorm- he discovered it!
In a similar way, no group of people could “invent” the Scriptures and decide which books were worthy enough to go into the Bible. The only thing that people could do is discover, recognize, collect, and preserve the books that God had already inspired. This is how we received the Bible that we have today.