The Bible is unique, without error, divinely inspired, and amazingly consistent despite being written by about 40 different human writers over 1500 years. There is no other book like it in all the world.
The Bible has been translated into more languages than any book in history, and thus, more people have read the Bible than any other book in history. That’s interesting and makes the Bible unique, but what makes it truly God’s Word? This article will profile how we can verify that this book is true because it is God’s message to humanity – literally God’s Word.
How many books are in the Bible?
The Protestant Bible is a collection of 66 books—this collection is called a canon. The term canon indicates a fixed, unchangeable collection. The phrase, “The Canon of Truth” was first used in the year 367 AD. The Christian Church today believes that nothing more can be added to the Canon of Scripture. The Bible is complete.
The development of the Old Testament
- The writings of the Old Testament were divided into sections; the Law, the Prophets, Poetry, etc., and were, in most cases, immediately accepted as divinely inspired.
- Old Testament writings were translated from Hebrew to Greek in the 3rd century BC. This translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint, made the Hebrew Old Testament writings available throughout the Roman Empire. Jesus often quoted from this version of the Hebrew Bible as did the Apostles and other New Testament writers.
- Old Testament material (Law, Prophets, Historical Literature, Wisdom Literature, etc.) was compiled into a single work to form a sacred Canon – a complete, unchangeable collection – at the Council of Jamnia in 90 AD.
The development of the New Testament
The writings of the Apostle Paul and the Gospels were quickly accepted as divinely inspired and were copied and circulated throughout the Roman Empire with unprecedented speed. The persecuted church moved underground in the second and third centuries. In 303 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued a decree to destroy all copies of Scripture.
For a time, the intense persecution of believers and swift expansion of the New Testament Church made it difficult for all church leaders to have access to all New Testament writings. Consequently, some churches or regions had access to one or more of the Gospels and some of Paul’s writings, whereas others had all the Gospels, some of Paul’s writings, and the Epistles of Peter, James, Jude, and John.
As persecution of the Church eased in the fourth century, church leaders from various parts of the Roman Empire gathered to pray and discern God’s leading regarding a uniform canon of New Testament material. The Canon of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, was finalized at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD.
HISTORY OF THE CIRCULATION AND ACCEPTANCE OF EARLY NEW TESTAMENT MATERIAL
- Early 40’s: The oral traditions of the ministry and teachings of Jesus began to be written down.
- 50–70 AD: The earliest New Testament works appear (James, Mark, and Paul’s Epistles). Matthew and Luke followed. Note: Paul never quotes a written work about Jesus.
- 95 AD: Clement of Rome refers to the “Words of Jesus,” but does not quote specific writings.
- 95 AD: John writes the book of Revelation, closing the canon of New Testament Scripture.
- 90–130 AD: The Epistle of Barnabas is not part of the canon of Scripture, but confirms a teaching of Jesus by saying, “As it is written…”
- 107-120 AD: The writings of Ignatius of Antioch contain many allusions to, and paraphrases of, other existing New Testament texts.
- 140–155 AD: Polycarp cites a letter of Paul, calling it “Scripture.”
- In the 140s, Marcion (a heretic) constructed his own canon, which included most of Paul’s letters in edited form, along with Luke’s Gospel.
- 150–160 AD: Justin (the Martyr) refers to a written Gospel and quotes from Luke.
- 160-220 AD: Tertullian of Africa supported a New Testament canon of 22 books, including the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, Jude, and Revelation. He did not believe Hebrews should be in the canon.
- 170-175 AD: Tatian, a disciple of Justin, created a harmony of the four orthodox Gospels known as the Diatessaron.
- 170–180 AD: Irenaeus refers to a “New Testament,” and also refers to four Gospels, comparing them to the four directions (North, South, East, and West) thus, indirectly, suggesting they were complete.
- As early as 200 AD: The Muratorian Fragment is a document whose actual date is widely disputed, but considered by many to be proof of a completed Christian canon by 200 AD, but many scholars date this document to after 350 AD. It omits the books: Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and 3 John.
- 195-225 AD: Church Fathers Clement of Alexandria (195-202 AD) and Tertullian (205-225 AD) were prolific writers and referenced every New Testament book except 3 John and Jude.
- 334–336 AD: Constantine, the Roman ruler who converted to Christianity, commissions New Testament material to be copied and circulated. These ‘Bibles’ include such writings as the Shepherd of Hermas and Didache, which were not accepted in later canons of the New Testament.
- 367 AD: Athanasius writes a Festal Letter (a religious writing on the occasion of a festival) that contains a listing of the 27 books of the New Testament canon as it is known today. He was also the first to use the word canon for his list. Historians agree that this is the oldest clear expression of a finalized New Testament canon.
- 393 AD: The first time a Church Council ruled on the list of ‘inspired’ writings was at the Synod of Hippo.
- 397 AD: The third Synod of Carthage confirmed an ‘official’ list (canon) of New Testament books.
Criteria for inclusion in the Canon
- Writings must be deemed divinely inspired (Deut. 18:18; 2 Peter 1:21).
- Writings must be consistent with established truth (Gal. 1:8).
- Writings must be rejected if there is evidence of error (Heb. 2:3-4).
- New Testament material must be written by an eye-witness to the ministry of Jesus, the birth and expansion of the New Testament Church, or someone working with an Apostle such as the writer/physician Luke.
- The Apocrypha is a collection of fifteen books written between 300—30 BC. The collection includes I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Song of the Three Children, the Story of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manassas, and I & II Maccabees.
- Because Apocryphal books were written before the birth of Christ, they would technically be Old Testament material but were not included in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. A further testimony against an inspired Apocrypha is the fact that Apocryphal writings were never quoted by Jesus or any New Testament writer, nor were they included in the official Old Testament Canon from the Council of Jamnia in 97 AD.
- The formal and official church Canon of Scripture, from the Synod of Hippo, 393 AD, did not include the Apocrypha.
- The Apocryphal writings include some interesting and accurate historical information, but NO Apocryphal book claims to be inspired—and several specifically deny that they are inspired (1 Maccabees 9:27 and 2 Maccabees 2:23; 15:38).
- The Catholic Church officially deemed the Apocrypha as divinely inspired in 1546.
- It is worth noting that the original 1611 King James Bible included the Apocrypha, as did virtually all bibles prior to its removal in 1885.
Are there “Lost Books” of the Bible?
There are more than a dozen books referenced in the Bible, but not included in the final canon of Scripture. For example, Numbers 21:14-15 quotes from the “Book of Wars,” Exodus 24:7 references the “Book of the Covenant.” Genesis 5:1 references the “Book of the Generations of Adam.” Joshua and Samuel quote from the “Book of Jashar.” 1 Kings 11:41 references the “Book of the Acts of Solomon,” 1 Kings 14:19 references the “Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel,” and 1 Kings 14:29 references the “Book of the annals of the Kings of Judah.” This does not mean the Bible is in error or incomplete. Many books were written during that period of history; that does not make them Scripture.
A wise pastor said it well: “We may not have it all, but we have more than enough.” The Apostle John notes that all the books in the world could not contain everything Jesus said and did (John 21:25). What the Bible includes is sufficient for salvation and developing a healthy spiritual life. Further, it is important to note that although the Bible references other writings, it does not implicitly indicate that those writings are divinely inspired. Rather, it indicates that they were historically accurate. Ancient peoples referenced these books and used them to reinforce the biblical narrative we see in the other 66 books.
- The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The first translation of the Old Testament was done in the third century BC when the Hebrew text was translated into Greek, the common language of the day.
- The New Testament was primarily written in Koine Greek with some Aramaic and Syriac. Jesus spoke Aramaic on the cross (Matt. 27:46).
- The Old and New Testaments were translated into Latin in the late fourth century AD.
- John Wycliffe, known as “the morning star of the Reformation,” was the first person to translate the complete Bible into English (mid 14th century). This was forbidden by the Catholic Church. John Wycliffe was put to death for his work.
- In the early 16th century, William Tyndale produced an English Bible which was widely circulated, again forbidden by the Catholic Church. William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his work.
- The Geneva Bible was developed in 1560 and became the most popular Bible of the common people. It was the Bible brought to America by the pilgrims. (No one fleeing religious persecution by the Church of England would have brought a Bible “authorized” by the King of England.)
- In the early 17th century, the King James Bible was written and widely circulated in Europe and later, in the United States.
- The discovery of older families of manuscripts, including the Dead Sea scrolls in the 20th century, facilitated the development of many new translations such as the RSV, NASV, NIV, NKJV, NEB, and others.
Enjoy this video teaching on the development of the Bible
©2021 iamawatchman, Inc. All rights reserved.
I Am A Watchman Ministries materials are copyrighted. Use and redistribution are subject to standard Fair Use Guidelines – Any use in published work (either print or ebooks) must include the copyright reference: “Copyrighted resource of iamawatchman, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.” NOTE: Articles which are re-posted online, in part or total, must include the above statement. We ask that re-posts also include an active link to www.iamawatchman.com