Where did the Bible come from?
Collecting the Bible
The Bible is the inspired word of God, but it is true that it was written by human hands. With so many books written throughout history, how do we know that the right books have been discovered and included in the Bible? The Old Testament was collected and kept in the Temple by the Jews and the early Church collected and circulated the letters and books of the New Testament. However the churches were spread throughout the world. The time it took to translate and circulate the books and the efforts of the Roman government to destroy them, made it difficult to gather the whole New Testament together as one book. Finally, the Emperor Constantine put an end to the persecutions and the Church officially recognized the 27 books of the New Testament late in the 4th century. Each book of the Bible had to meet certain qualifications before it could be included as the Word of God. The Early Church Fathers carefully considered each book in light of the following tests to discover if what was written was truly inspired by God. It was serious business, for many lives had been risked and even lost for the truth contained in the Scriptures.
What is the Canon of Scripture?
Canon is simply the term used to refer to the Bible. It is the collection of books that has been discovered to be inspired by God.
How did a Book Qualify to be in the Bible?
1. It had to be written by a Prophet
THE OLD TESTAMENT
In a time when the Holy Spirit was not constantly present with each individual like we have him today, Prophets were the voice of God to men. They were compelled to speak God’s words without error. (Deuteronomy 18:18; Deuteronomy 4:2) Their books are filled with phrases proclaiming things like, “The word of the LORD came to me” (Jeremiah 1: 4), “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me” (2 Samuel 23:2), “the Lord said” (Judges 1:2), “This is what the LORD says” (Isaiah 66:1). When God spoke to the prophets of Israel, they recorded his words and their books were kept in the Ark of the Covenant. (Deuteronomy 31: 24 – 26). Later they were kept in the Temple. (2 Kings22:8)
From the time the Jews left Egypt, of physical presence of God was with the Jews. While they were traveling to the Promised Land it was the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night. (Exodus 13:21) Later it was in a cloud or light that filled the tabernacle and temple (Exodus 40:34 – 38) and resided in the Holy of Holies above the Arc. (Leviticus 16:2) This was called the Shekinah Glory of God. Because of the Nature of God, nothing was able to exist in his presence that he didn’t approve of, therefore we can be assured that the books we have in the Old Testament are truly God’s words to man.
After Malachi, there were no more prophets of God until John the Baptist, 400 years later. Nothing written during this time was considered part of the sacred scriptures or Old Testament Canon. Jewish historian Josephus writes “From Artaxerxes until our time everything has been recorded, but has not been deemed worthy or like credit with what preceded, because the exact succession of the prophets ceased….for though so long a time has now passed, no one has dared to add anything to them, or to take anything form them, or to alter anything in them.” (Contra Apion 1.8)(pg 206)
The rabbis stated that “With the death of Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi the latter prophets, the Holy Spirit ceased out of Israel.”
2. The Prophet had to be confirmed by God
Every book of the Bible had to be written by a prophet or apostle of God. (although some used scribes or associates) Since there were also false prophets, each prophet or apostle had to be confirmed as approved by God. This was done by acts of God, or miracles. For example, in the Old Testament, Moses performed the 10 plagues, the walls of Jericho fell for Joshua, Elijah brought a widows son back to life and many more. In the New Testament, Peter and John healed the crippled beggar, Paul cured the lame man and Peter brought Tabitha back to life. Paul told the Corinthians, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” 2 Corinthians 12:12
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3. The Message had to tell the Truth about God
Since God can’t contradict Himself or lie to us, all the books of the Bible have to agree completely. (2 Corinthians 1:17 – 18 and Hebrews 6:18 and Deuteronomy 13: 1 – 3, Deut. 18: 20 - 22) This was an important test later when the prophets and apostles were no longer around and the new generations had not seen the miracles. It is primarily used to discover which books do not belong in the Bible.
4. The Book had to Display the Power of God
Not only did the writer have to be confirmed by the power of God, but the book he wrote also had to contain the power of God. The Bible is a living and active book. (Hebrews 4:12) There is no other book like it. If a book was from God, it had to demonstrate the power to change lives, to edify and evangelize. If it did not transform, then it wasn’t backed by God. (Isaiah 55:11)
5. The Book had to be Accepted as from God by the People of God to whom it was Written
The people the book was written to would have known if the writer was a prophet who had been confirmed by God. They were the best to tell if it belonged in the scriptures. For example, Moses’ books were put in the Ark as soon as they were written, (Deuteronomy 31:26, 1 Samuel 10:25), Paul quotes Luke as scripture, (1 Timothy 5:18) and the letters from the apostles were read and circulated among the churches. (1 Thess. 5:27)
When was the Old Testament written?
All Dates are Approximate
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy - Also called the Pentateuch, Torah or Law. Generally thought to be written mostly by Moses who may have died around 1450 BC.
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther - Called the Historical Books. Possibly written between 1400 BC and 400 BC.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon - Books of Poetry. Possibly written between 1250 BC and 400 BC
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel - Major Prophets, written between 900 and 400 BC
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi - Minor Prophets, also written between 900 BC and 400 BC
The Bible is Finished
The Old Testament was finish by 400 BC. The New Testament was pretty much finished by the end of the first century. This was a time when eyewitness accounts could confirm or deny anything that was written. The prophets, apostles and their eyewitnesses are all dead and gone and no one has arrived who has been able to display the “sign” of an apostle or prophet. Therefore we can conclude that Scripture is closed and nothing after this time period has the authority needed to be included in the Canon of the Bible.
Giesler, Norman & William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986
Butler, Trent C. (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
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