The Origin Of The Bible

From where did our Bible come? How did the specific 66 books become known as “the Bible?” Were other books considered and excluded? If so, why?

In the early years after the resurrection of Christ there was no need for written records. Those who evangelized and taught were eye witnesses. They had seen and heard our Lord act and teach. There was no need for verification by written records. As more and more eyewitnesses died it became apparent written records were needed. Confusion was sure to occur if some permanent written record was not secured. This necessitated the codifying of reputable and reliable written texts.

Almost all the books of the New Testament were written within thirty years of the resurrection. The books of James and Galatians, written around 45-50 A.D. were likely the first.

The books gathered were called the “canon.” It comes from the Greek KANON, which comes from the Hebrew QANEH. The Hebrew means a reed or measuring rod. It came to mean the “rule of faith.” As applied to Scripture, it means the standard by which a volume was considered worthy of inclusion in the Bible.

Had not God been involved in the formation of the cannon some valid books might have been omitted or some erroneous ones included. As God used human beings to originate the books, so He used human beings to organize them. The church was the child of the Word not the mother. The result has prompted one historian to say it was NOT AN AUTHORIZED COLLECTION OF BOOKS, BUT A COLLECTION OF AUTHORIZED BOOKS.

The word Bible comes from the Greek word for “papyrus plant” (biblos) because the leaves of the plant were used for a paper product.

The Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The word “testament” comes from the Latin word TESTAMENTUM, meaning covenant.

The Old Testament was formulated four hundred years before Christ. It was the Synod of Jamnia, in A.D. 90, that confirmed the 39 books of the Old Testament as the official cannon.

All the books of the New Testament were revered by the early church even before the formation of the canon. Around 200 A.D. Tertullian, Bishop of Carthage, was among the first to use the term New Testament.

Political events motivated the church to formalize the canon. The Roman Emperor Diocletian bitterly persecuted the church between 302 and 305 A.D. One of his edicts called for the burning of all Scripture. Christians had to decide which books were worth dying for. Diocletian was so sure he had destroyed all texts and eradicated Christianity he erected a monument inscribed: “The name of Christian is extinguished.”

Many other efforts were made to discredit and destroy the books that came to be the New Testament canon. Celsus tried by his sagacity to stifle it. Porphyry by means of his deep philosophy endeavored to eradicate it. Lucien with his keen satire tried to destroy it.

The ancient prophet said it well: “The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

As a Roman Emperor had tried to destroy the Scriptures so an emperor, Constantine, was used of the Lord to give occasion for it to be codified. In 312 A.D. the Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. The following year he ended persecution of the church by declaring Christianity legal in the empire. In 325 A.D. he convened the Council of Nicea out of which came the Nicene Creed, a statement of Christian beliefs based on Scripture.

As a sidebar to the primary thesis of this writing spurious claims regarding the Council of Nicea need to be addressed. In Dan Brown’s book The DiVinci Code he writes, “All descriptions of…documents…in this novel are accurate.” Then speaking of the Council of Nicea he asserts, “Until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless.”

Brown has his facts reversed. The earliest friends and devotees of Christ accepted Him as the man/God-God/man. Only later did leaders of false cults and renegade religious rebels make up stories discrediting this fact. Primary among these was a man named Arius.

The Apostle John was a disciple of Jesus for three years. He wrote from his first person perspective the concept of Christ from a contemporaries point of view: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

John wrote of His eternal nature. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—-this we proclaim regarding the Word of life” (I John 1:1).

In addition to His preexistent nature John wrote of Him as creator. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1: 1,3,14).

“Word” translates the Greek word “Logos.” A way to understand the meaning of a word is to observe how it was used at the time of use. Philo in his writing of the time used “Logos” meaning “all that is known or knowable about God.”
This Logos, Jesus Christ, was the logic, the genius, who used His divine power to design and create the universe.

John and other gospel writers declared the deity of Christ long before the Council of Nicea. Those attending the council used the Bible as the basis for formulating their creed.

In the first two centuries of the emerging church various books now in our New Testament were considered divinely inspired and widely read in the churches. They existed as individual books during this time, not as a canon. The people came to be perceive of and confirm the self-revealing qualities of these books as possessing canonical qualities.

Though the various books that now comprise the New Testament were recognized by different Christian communities it wasn’t until 367 A.D. that the 27 books of the New Testament were listed in an Easter letter written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.

Apart form Athanasius, Jerome, about 385 A.D., recognized the same 27 books in his translation of the Latin Vulgate. The councils of Hippo (393 A.D.) and Carthage (397 A.D.) independently acknowledge the New Testament as now known as Canonical. This was not done at the Council of Nicea as some popular writers indicate.

The convergence of these and other groupings served as convincing evidence the list was correct. Between 200 and 400 A.D. there were ten independent catalogues of Canonical books published. Six of these agree with our New Testament and three omit only one book. The point is, there was general acceptance of the books that were eventually formally accepted long before the canon was confirmed officially.

The compilation of the canon was not a conciliar decision. The church recognized the canon rather than defined it.

The criteria for inclusion was antiquity, inherent authority, apostolic authorship, and Christocentricity. When the era of apostolic authorship ended the canon was considered closed. Intrinsic authority was necessary for canonicity. This is one of the primary reason works known as the Gnostic Gospels were not included.

Apostolic authorship was a vital test for inclusion in the canon. Though some few authors were not actually apostles they were companions of the apostles. Mark was Peter’s protege. Luke was Paul’s associate, and James and Jude were members of the apostolic community in Jerusalem. Of such authors Jesus said, “you also shall bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27).

Antiquity was a significant factor in settling on the 27 books. Proximity to the event being written about is important. Consider these factors.

Writings regarding the Iliad by Homer consist of 643 early manuscripts. The earliest was written 500 years after the events.

Writings considered historical that relate to the Gallic Wars involving Julius Caesar number 10 and the earliest was written 1,000 years after the events. Aristotle wrote around 343 B.C. and only five manuscripts exist. The earliest is dated 1100 A.D., 1400 years later.

There are over 25,000 early manuscripts of New Testament books and the lapsed time of the earliest is 25 years after the events. Comparison of these texts verify the message as having historical accuracy that has not having changed. In 1611 the Authorized King James version of the Bible based manuscripts existing at the time was released. Around 1848, during the European revolution, more manuscripts older than those used in the King James translation were found. Since 1611 more than 5,000 manuscripts older than those from which the King James was translated have been found. Approximately 98% of the King James was proven to be clear and accurate. The 2% that was difficult to understand was strengthened and made more understandable by these older texts. They did not change the meaning, they simply made it more clear.

Long before the church had a canon it had a Lord and a theology. That theology was based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the earliest preaching of His followers. The New Testament writings are a codification of apostolic tradition. The books became canonical long after they were considered authoritative. As with Sir Isaac Newton, he did not invent gravity, it was there all the time, he merely identified it. So with the consistent canonical books, they were there and simply identified by various councils as such.

As the Christian era progressed a variety of literature related to Christ appeared. Some was written to promote special interests by various heretical groups. Some of these documents were likely well intended but factually inaccurate. An apparently disingenuous unit of such writings was designed to discredit Christ and the emerging Christian faith. Luke implied that a large body of fragmentary literature was circulating in his day.

“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you and orderly account…that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:1-4). It had become apparent measures would have to be taken to separate the wheat from the chaff. This necessity resulted in the canon.

A grouping of spurious writings, the Gnostic Gospels, are based on works written nearly 200 years after the events. Only a few copies of each of these exist; some only one. Though some have been given names of Bible characters they were written after the deaths of the persons whose names they bear. Skeptics say these books were excluded because they did not agree with those book included. Precisely! They did not meet the criteria for inclusion nor was their content compatible with that of the broadly accepted works included.

Critics seek to discredit the four gospels on the basis some items are mentioned in only one of them and various ones give different details of the same events. The details do not conflict they merely give different aspects of the same event. By no means does this weaken the reliability on the Word. It indicates there was no collusion among the writers. Each presented his insight on the subjects.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they are somewhat parallel in their content. About 90% of the material in the gospel of John is not in the other three gospels. The four dovetail to give a four-way perspective of who Christ was, what He did and taught.

Parenthetically, the Bible’s chapter divisions were created in the early 1200s by Cardinal Hugo at the University of Paris. The current verse divisions were not fully developed until 1551 by Robert Stephanus. The awkward breaks in some verses might be explained in that he reputedly did much of his work riding on a donkey.

The Apostle Peter recorded insight regarding the reliability of Scripture (II Peter 1:15-21). He professed he and others “did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known … the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses” (Vs. 16).

In a court of law an eyewitness is considered to be a creditable witness.
He said he heard the voice of God say of Christ, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Vs. 17). In a court of law a witness who has heard a statement first hand is considered a reputable witness.

He then speaks of “the prophetic word made more sure” (Vs. 19).

Thus, he declares there is a witness more reliable than an eye and/or oral witness. The more sure witness is the Bible because he asserts “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (Vs. 20). This expression does not refer to the reading of Scripture but rather its authorship. This is true because “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (Vs. 21).

The use of the plural personal pronoun “we” makes it apparent this is applicable to the Old and New Testaments because they were written by holy men moved of the Holy Spirit who were eyewitnesses who had heard Christ teach. Only writings by such men were admitted to the New Testament canon.

The word “canon” means a measuring rod, a rule of faith. The Bible being such it is essential for believers to study it and live by it. It has been given to us by heaven and brought to us at great expense by those who penned and preserved it.

Read it to be inspired.
Believe it to be safe.
Practice it to be fulfilled.