I get this questions in various shapes and sizes, all the time. "How did we get the Bible we have today?" "How do we know that the Christian Bible is really God's Word?" "Why are these particular writings in the Bible and not some of the other religiuos writings that come from the same time period?" Etc. There are great answers to all of those questions. In order to help you really get this, I need to explain a few terms and concepts, so hang with me on that. My hope is that you'll find all of it very practical and helpful. And that by the end of the article you'll say, "Okay, now I've got a decent grip on how we got our Bible!" Ready? Okay, let's dive into this thing!
The Bible is a Book of books. Sixty-six of them to be exact! Thirty-nine books make up the Old Testament and twenty-seven make up the New Testament. Sixty-six books, written by 40+ different authors, over a period of 1,500 years! Containing over 300 prophecies about the Messiah (all of which Jesus fulfilled perfectly, a statistical miracle in and of itself!). No other "sacred text" even comes close to being able to make a claim like this. It's fantasitc! You can clearly see God's grace and plan of redemption in every single book! Many scholars call this the "scarlet thread"---in reference to the blood of Jesus. You can see God's plan to send Jesus as our Savior in EVERY BOOK! But that's another article...
The word "revelation" means to "reveal," or "to make known." The reason we know ANYTHING about God is NOT because we somehow "discovered" Him somewhere... but rather because He... on purpose... broke in and made Himself known to us... He "revealed" Himself to us. One of the ways He did this was by "inspiring" people to write down messages from Him. The word "inspire" literally means "God breathed"... this is why Paul says, "... all Scripture is 'God breathed...'"
The word "testament" means, "covenant"... and a "covenant" is, basically, an offering of relationship. The very best way I know to explain this is to illustrate the difference between a CONTRACT, and a COVENANT.
In a CONTRACT is not an offering of relationship... at all... offering services/products and getting reward/paid for them. When two parties sign a contract each party is looking out for themselves, i.e. If you were going to paint my house-we may sign a CONTRACT. The contract would clearly state that you would be paid "X" amount upon the completion of your work. It would also state that I would only have to pay you "X" amount once the work was finished to my satisfaction. See how that works? CONTRACTS exist to make sure people don't get ripped off... in the example above-the contract assures that you get paid for your work... and it assures that I get satisfactory work for my pay. There's not much need for love or relationship with a contract...
COVENANTS are different. Where contracts are "self-centered" (I want to make sure I get what I want out of this...), CONVENANTS are "OTHERS CENTERED" (I want to make sure you get what you want/need out of this...). Go back to the illustration of you painting my house... if we were to do it under a covenant agreement-it would go something like this -- Your part would say, "I want to paint Brad's house to bless him." And my part would say, "I want to pay you to bless you." That's covenant. And that requires a certain amount of love, trust and commitment from each party. I have to trust you to do a good job... and you have to trust me to bless you with pay when you're done with the job.
THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF COVENANT... THE CROSS.
Before Jesus put on skin and lived among us and died for us on the cross... He DID NOT send out a survey crew to ask, "Okay... so how many of you are going to accept me as Savior after this? I need to know BEFORE I go through all this torture... I need to make sure I get out of this deal what I want." No... Jesus didn't do that did he? He simply came... laid down his life for us and said, "Now, whosoever will, come and receive." THAT, is covenant.
And by the way-THAT is how God calls us to relate with each other!
John 13:34-35 (NLT) "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you (i.e. in the same way that I have love you), you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
So, when we talk about the Old Testament-we're talking about the group of writings that reveal the "old covenant"... the old offer of relationship God made with people through Israel. The Old Covenant was based on Law and Sacrifice. God revealed both of these (His Law and the Sacrificial System) through Moses-in the first five books of the Bible (Gen. - Deut., often referred to as "The Law). The rest of the Old Testament contains books of History (Joshua-Esther, the history of Israel and God's work with them), Poetry (Job-Song of Solomon, sometimes called the "writings"), and the Prophets (Isa.-Malachi).... But the underlying theme in EVERY SINGLE book of the OT is-God loves us... he created us... he has revealed His Law (His standards/his heart)... He has given us a way to walk with Him and to be forgiven when we screw up (Sacrifice)... this is His offer of relationship with us... will you embrace it? Will you love and trust Him with all your heart? That's the message of the OT.
The "books" of the OT were solidly agreed upon by the time Jesus arrived. Obviously they had all kinds of "extra" writings and teachings (traditions, etc.), but the books of LAW, HISTORY, POETY AND PROPHETS were the scriptures.
SIDE NOTE... What about the "apocrypha"" (the books Catholic Bibles have that Protestants do not recognize as Scripture)? I'll address that at the end of this article.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
Remember, "testament" = "covenant" which = "God's offer of relationship with us".
The New Testament is all about JESUS. Jesus is the center of everything. He is THE sacrificial lamb of God-offered by God for our sins... He is THE High Priest who intercedes for us before God (do you see why reading/understanding the OT is important!? The NT is based on it!!!!!)... The NT is all about God offering us relationship with himself through faith in Jesus-THAT is the underlying theme of EVERY SINGLE book of the NT
SO HOW DID WE SETTLE ON THE 27 BOOKS WE CALL THE New Testament?
It might freak you out to learn that the NT as we know it today-really wasn't a totally done deal until somewhere around the 18th Century (1700s)! That's basically because The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century stirred a lot of things up... but that's another story...
DOES THAT MEAN THAT CHRISTIANS WHO LIVED BETWEEN THE 1st AND 18th CENTURIES WEREN'T SURE ABOUT WHAT WAS BIBLE AND WHAT WASN'T?
The short answer is NO.
From the moment that the apostles began to write, the First Century-Christians held their writing up as inspired, authoritative and of God. Whether they called them Scripture or not, I do not know, but for them it wasn't an issue. All they knew was that Jesus, their Savior, was speaking to them through the writings of these apostles! Most of the books of the NT were agreed upon, and viewed as inspired and authoritative by the middle of the 2nd Century.
Sometimes you'll hear people speak of the "canon" of Scripture.. the word "canon" is simply a word that means "rule" or "standard"... So, the canon of Scripture is simply the list of books that meet certain standards of authenticity.
SIDE NOTE: Some critics of the church say, "Men put the bible together... people chose what books were included in the Bible and which ones didn't... so you really can't trust it." Friends, God has always worked through people... that's the way He works... what it all comes down to is this question: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD IS BIG ENOUGH TO ENSURE THAT HIS REVEALED WORD WAS PRESERVED AND HANDED DOWN TO US or not? If you don't think God can handle that... then you've got bigger issues than this article can deal with! If you know God can handle that... then... no problem let's move on...
THE HOME STRETCH... I.E. THE FINAL SECTION...
HOW WE GOT OUR NEW TESTAMENT!
Finally, I want to share with you the STANDARDS the early church used to determine which books were Scripture and which ones were not (we're focusing on the NT here). I think this will bless you.
FIVE GUIDING QUESTIONS
The early church prayerfully used five questions to guide them through the process of choosing the New Testament Books.
IS THIS BOOK APOSTOLIC?
Was it written by an Apostle (I.e. one of the 12?)... Or, at the very least... is its message/teaching in harmony with the teaching of the original Apostles? A good example of a book that falls into this category is HEBREWS--we're not certain who wrote it--some think Barnabas, some Paul... but no matter... it's teaching is rock-solid and in perfect harmony with the Apostles teachings.
IS THE BOOK ROOTED IN THE FIRST CENTURY?
Does this book have direct connections to the people who walked and talked with Jesus? No NT Book was written latter than the 1st Century. All of them were written by first generation Christians.
IS THE BOOK ORTHODOX?
Is the book in harmony with the teaching of the original Apostles? This sounds like a repeat of QUESTION ONE... and I guess it sort of is. But the early church--guided by the Holy Spirit--believed that this was a very important issue. So do I by the way.
IS THE BOOK UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED?
Do Christian Communities EVERYWHERE embrace this as genuine, inspired, authoritative and of God?
There were lots of writings that were "popular" in local areas, but were not universally accepted as Scripture.
IS IT INSPIRED?
This question was sort of a combination of the other four. "Does the Holy Spirit speak to us as we read it?" Is it the real deal.... And is it held to be so by the whole church?
So, the early church leaders used those 5 questions to prayerfully discern what was Scripture and what wasn't.
And I think they and the Holy Spirit together did an excellent job!
WHAT ABOUT THE APPOCRYPHA?
The apocrypha is a name given to a group of books that Catholics hold as Scripture, but Protestants do not.
Now, you have to remember that up until the 16th Century (1500s) there was no Protestant church... there was only the Catholic Church. But when Martin Luther and the other Reformers came along all of that changed.
Protestant leaders, in general held less to the "traditions" of the Catholic Church, and they placed more emphasis on Scripture as the primary standard of a believer's faith and practice. This heightened conviction and attitude toward Scripture caused them to reevaluate the "canon"... and as they applied the above 5 questions to what was then the Bible... they did not find the books of the Apocrypha...
First and Second Maccabees
Some additions to Esther and Daniel
...up to the test... and thus rejected them.
THERE'S NOTHING WRONG with reading any of these books... they can be interesting and informative... they just weren't deemed "Scripture," thus they aren't "binding" on the (protestant) church.
So there ya go. The wonderful conclusion that becomes obvious as you study this topic is that God worked in every single step of the process. He inspired the writers to write. He worked in the hearts of His people (the church) so that they perceived and heard the Spirit speaking to them through these writings. He worked through the Church leaders over the years to guide them to a right understanding of which books should and should not be deemed "Scripture." And today He works in our hearts as we read and study the Bible.
Pastor Brad is the pastor of Connections and Discipleship at First Church in Altoona, PA and a Christian Rock Musician. He is always excited to connect with new friends so please feel free to contact him any time! You can do so through the websites below.
Pastor Brad's Christian Metal World!
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