The story of the Bible’s creation and collection is a fascinating look at God’s sovereign work through human history. It includes the thirty-nine writings of the Old Testament and twenty-seven books of the New Testament, each with a unique story, yet united through God’s Spirit to impact lives like no other book.
The Old Testament’s writings begin with the Law (called the Torah) composed by Moses around 1400 BC. These five books formed the basis of the Jewish faith and nation. The Old Testament also includes books of history (Joshua through Esther), books of wisdom (Job through Song of Songs), and both major prophets (Isaiah through Ezekiel) and minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi).
The Jewish Pharisees in Jamnia are known as the group responsible for affirming our modern list of Old Testament books following the destruction of the Jewish temple in the first century. Their criteria included accepting only books from the writings of Moses to the time of Ezra (1400–400 BC, approximately one thousand years). They rejected the writings of the Apocrypha, accepting the list of writings including in our Bible today.
The New Testament was written in a much shorter period following the earthly ministry of Jesus. Between the ’40s and ’90s of the first century, some of the apostles and their associates composed writings for early believers that were recognized as authoritative and inspired. These included the four Gospels, written either by an apostle (Matthew, John) or one of their associates (Mark, Luke). Acts chronicles the early history of the church and was the second volume of Luke’s Gospel.
The remaining works of the New Testament include thirteen letters produced by the apostle Paul, as well as the general epistles (Hebrews to Jude), and the one book of prophecy by the apostle John, Revelation (likely the last book composed in AD 95–96). The early church began collecting these works into lists in the second century, partly to determine authoritative works from heretical writings that were beginning to circulate.
These collections were also important due to increased persecution. With Christian writings being destroyed at times, it was vital to clearly indicate which Christian writings were authoritative for the church. Various lists were developed in the second to fourth centuries, leading to the twenty-seven books we have today. Though a few shorter books were disputed by some during the early period as they were not as well-known (such as 2 Peter), Jerome’s translation of these twenty-seven writings into Latin for the church made it clear which writings were considered part of the New Testament in the early church.
The Bible we hold in our hands today includes a fascinating history and enormous effort to bring it to us through centuries of transcribing and persecution. Unlike any other book, the Bible is a diverse collection with a single message of the one true God who changes lives still today.
Rev. Alex McFarland is heard daily on the American Family Radio network and weekly on The Alex McFarland Show (podcast and YouTube channels). He directs Biblical Worldview for Charis Bible College, located in Colorado. Alex speaks frequently throughout the U.S. For more information go to https://alexmcfarland.com/speaking/.
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