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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4 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.

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