How Did We Get the Bible?

Where did the Bible come from? [1]

I have heard some wild claims from skeptics and Christians alike concerning the origin of the Bible. “Constantine wrote the Bible hundreds of years after the life of Jesus!” What?

I thought it would be helpful to discuss briefly where we got the Bible and why these books are considered Scripture and not others.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament Scriptures as we have them today were formally recognized as such as early as the 4th Century BC and certainly no later than 150 BC. We know this because the Jews were convinced as early as the 4th Century that God had stopped sending them prophets. Christians call this the Intertestamental Period – the time between the Old Testament and New Testament.

The last books written before the Jews began saying things like “the prophets have fallen asleep” (Baruch 85:3), were Malachi and Chronicles somewhere around 400 BC. After that, there are no more additions to the Hebrew Scriptures. So as early as 400 BC the books of the Bible we recognize today as the Old Testament were already agreed upon.

Somewhere between 250 -150 BC a Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint (LXX), appears on the scene. It contains the same books. This is further corroborative evidence of the authenticity of these books. They were recognized very early as being authoritative.

The New Testament

Most skeptics focus their attacks on the New Testament, as the New Testament letters do hold a higher significance for Christians because of the central role of Jesus in the faith.

The skeptic might say, “Don’t you know the New Testament was written hundreds of years after Jesus? It has been added to over the centuries. You can’t possibly believe it.” Yes, I can possibly believe it. Why? Because this accusation is demonstrably false.

The New Testament canon was recognized as such long before the Synod of Hippo in 393 when they formally recognized it as such. All the synod did was formally recognize what every one had informally recognized for three centuries. We know this from early writings outside of the New Testament.

Early Church Fathers who refer to New Testament letters as Scripture in their own writings:

  • Ignatius (AD 50-115)
  • Polycarp (AD 115)
  • Justin Martyr (AD 100-165)
  • Irenaeus (AD 180)
  • Clement of Alexandria (AD 200)
  • Origen (AD 249)
  • Athanasius (AD 367)

Between these seven references, all of the New Testament is accounted for. The New Testament letters were treated as Scripture long before the Synod in 393 and much closer to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection than the skeptics care to admit.

This doesn’t prove that the New Testament letters are correct in everything that they convey, nor does it prove that they are divine. It just shows that the letters were not decided upon by some Church council 400 years later. The were discovered. And they were discovered very early.

How Did They Decide?

Remember, by “they” I don’t mean whoever was at some church council 400 years after the fact. I primarily mean the early Church that was circulating these letters, treating them as Scripture very early on. How did they know what should be added to Scripture, and what shouldn’t? Here’s some criteria they used:

Apostolic.

In order to be considered part of the New Testament, a letter must have been written by an Apostle, or someone within the apostolic circle (like Luke). The early Church believed that the Apostles were the mouthpiece of Jesus. What the Apostles spoke was ordained by Jesus. Therefore, a letter written by an apostle, or about what an apostle had said, was considered Scripture.

Theological Consistency.

If a letter were to come along teaching polytheism, it would be thrown out because that would contradict what the already approved Bible taught. In other words, other parts of the Bible that they knew were written by a prophet or apostle — and therefore from God — taught monotheism, so a letter teaching polytheism couldn’t possibly be from God because God cannot contradict Himself (2 Corinthians 1:17, 18; Hebrews 6:18).

Wide Acceptance.

Did virtually everyone in the Church already accept this letter as apostolic? If so, it was considered part of the canon. This is why if a letter showed up today claiming to be apostolic, we would not add it to the canon. It wasn’t widely recognized by the Early Church and therefore couldn’t be in the canon.

Paul said this in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:

“This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe.”

The Early Church knew what they were doing. They only accepted as canonical those letters which met this criteria. Others, like the Apocrypha, were excluded because they failed to meet one or more of these criteria.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article was to debunk the claim that the Bible came to us way late. No, we have very early sources recognizing the current 66 books of the Bible as Holy Scripture.

Now, I’m going to turn my attention to the historical reliability of the Scriptures. Stay tuned!

[1] This article draws heavily from a book I HIGHLY recommend: Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Thomas Nelson. 2017. Kindle. 21-40.


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21 Replies to “How Did We Get the Bible?”

  1. I’ve been very interested in this topic lately, I’ve been reading many books by Lee Strobel. Your post was also very helpful. Thank u!

  2. Hayden. A must read is The Lost Books of the Bible. There is some great information that the council just could not see, had any importance. It has been out of print, much like the Gospel of Philli[p, as he was dispached to the East.

  3. The Four Gospels were unknown to the early Church Fathers. Justin Martyr, the most eminent of the early Fathers, wrote about the middle of the second century. His writings in proof of the divinity of Christ demanded the use of these Gospels, had they existed in his time. He makes more than 300 quotations from the books of the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from the Apocryphal books of the New Testament; but none from the four Gospels. Rev. Giles says: “The very names of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are never mentioned by him (Justin)—do not occur once in all his writings.”

    John E Remsburg

    1. Here’s some Church Fathers who quote New Testament letters:

      Ignatius (AD 50-115)
      Polycarp (AD 115)
      Justin Martyr (AD 100-165)
      Irenaeus (AD 180)
      Clement of Alexandria (AD 200)
      Origen (AD 249)
      Athanasius (AD 367)

      1. Yes, I read your post.
        Letters? Are you referring to Paul’s letters?

      2. Justin Martyr quotes directly from the Gospel of Luke

      3. I have been unable to find any such direct quotes. Please provide the quote/s you are referring to and also your reference/source of authority that confirms these quotes.

      4. I can do you one better. Here is a direct quote from Clement of Rome (before Justin Martyr):

        “Clement assumed the words of Jesus were passed down faithfully. For instance, First Clement 13 (c. AD 95) says, “We should especially remember the words the Lord Jesus spoke when teaching about gentleness and patience. For he said, “Show mercy, that you may be shown mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven you. As you do, so it will be done to you; as you give, so it will be given to you, as you judge, so you will be judged, as you show kindness, so will kindness be shown to you; the amount you dispense will be the amount you receive.” (ANF, I.57-58; Scripture allusions in this passage are to Matt. 5:7, 6:14, 15; 7:1, 2, 12; Luke 6:31, 36-38)”

        – Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh and Sean McDowell (pg. 77).

        Clement quotes from two Gospels as early as AD 95. Thanks mate, have a good one!

      5. Again, you have failed to provide the evidence you claim regarding Justin Martyr pertaining to the Gospel of Luke and now you scrabble about the internet looking to save face by referring to allusions.

        It seems you are merely pushing an apologetic agenda without actually understanding what you are writing about.

        I wonder if you have even read Justin Martyr, or any of the authors you quote in the body of the post?

      6. Last response since you clearly don’t care for evidence. Clement came before Justin Martyr. His testimony is more noteworthy. I’ve proven the Gospels to be early attested. It was a good try, but they evidence for the early attestation of the Gospels remains sound and serious historians don’t question it. Have a nice day.

      7. I rely only on evidence.
        You’ve proven absolutely nothing, and have resorted to hand waving because you are unable to provide the evidence or citations you claim.
        That is simply dishonest.
        For what it’s worth, Justin never refers to the gospels but to what he calls the Memoirs of the Apostles and this is what he quotes.
        He said the Memoirs were composed by the apostles, but ”Luke” and ”Mark” were not apostles and gMatthew never claimed it was apostolic and neither did gJohn. This would indicate that Martyr did not have the four gospels at all.

        You are merely trotting out apologetic diatribe.
        Genuine historians all question it.

      8. I literally gave you citation and quotation of Clement of Rome, again WHO CAME BEFORE JUSTIN MARTYR. Why you obsessed with Martyr? Clement came first and he quotes the Gospels. Irenaeus quotes all four. And the question of Justin Martyr is disputed among historians, it isn’t final. There are many New Testament historians who believe he does quote from the Synoptic Gospels including skeptic, Bart Ehrman.

        Here’s the thing: IT DOES NOT MATTER. Justin Martyr was not the only church father, nor was he the earliest.

        I gave you Clement of Rome quoting the Gospels in AD 95. That’s a historical fact. Evidence. Thanks for stopping by!

      9. I am not obsessed with Martyr at all. You listed him as quoting Luke. That is an outright falsehood.

        If it does not matter then why did you list Martyr when he clearly does not quote the gospels and obviously did not have them?

        Furthermore, you have no concrete evidence for dating 1st Clement at 95 so it is not an historical fact soplease do not throw around that term willy-nilly without evidence.
        To this end, I would be keen to read why you believe this dating should be accepted?

        And based on your response (above) I have to wonder if you have also read 1st Clement?

        Evidence for the dating please.
        Over to you ….

      10. You referenced / quoted McDowell.
        McDowell is a Christian fundamentalist. He believes in biblical innerancy, thus is not a reliable source at all.
        For the same reason Kruger can be overlooked.
        If you wish to have any credibility identify a neutral ( non apologetical/evangelical) source
        If you do not know the reason for the supposed dating for 1st Clement then don’t reference stuff you have no historical knowledge or understanding of.

      11. “He believes in biblical *inerrancy, thus is not a reliable source at all.” is a logical fallacy.

        That would be like me saying, “He’s an atheist, thus an untrustworthy source.” Its childish and a convenient way of avoiding having to deal with the arguments of others. If you don’t wish to read McDowell or other Christians on the subject, that’s fine, but don’t pretend to be honest or open. That’s as close-minded as possible.

        I really do have to go, but have a good one.

      12. Not at all.
        If he believes that the Pentateuch, for example, was written by Moses and that Adam and Eve were genuine historical characters this strongly suggests he is predisposed to accept anything that will further his belief/faith, even where the evidence flatly contradicts such belief. Thus, it is very reasonable to presume he will be prejudiced against anything that will alter such fundamentalist leanings.

        In the pursuit of fact we must try to remove as much bias as possible.
        Using Christian Apologists to further your case without presenting opposing views merely tells me you are likely to suffer from a similar fundamentalist/indoctrinated perspective .
        I asked on another thread if you accepted evolution, by the way. Do you accept it?

      13. Thanks for the conversation, gotta go now!

      14. Maybe one day you will look back on this and wonder why on earth you believed in the first place.

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