Overview of the Bible Formation

The Bible is a not a single book like the Quran, it is collection of books of prophets inspired by God over a period of 1500 years.  God used forty (40) independent humans to give us his full message.  They lived in three different continents - Asia, Africa and Europe. For example, Prophet Moses wrote in the desert of Sinai, Apostle Paul wrote in a prison in Rome, Prophet Daniel from exile in Babylon, and Prophet Ezra in the ruined city of Jerusalem.  They spoke and wrote in three different languages and came from different occupations, which included a king such as Prophet David, Apostle John a fishermen, Apostle Matthew a tax collector, etc. The Bible is divided into two main sections, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT).   The OT was inspired before Jesus Christ (Isa Al Masih) and the NT was inspired after his ascension. 


Christians believe it is a work of significance and truth because God orchestrated its creation and publication by inspiring men and women.   These people under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit (not Gabriel or other angels) wrote the instructions, various poems and letters and historical accounts that became books of the Bible. The word inspiration comes from the Hebrew and Greek words that reflect “God Breathed” and being “Carried Along by God”.  Note what scripture teaches in this regard:


From Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:15-17

15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.


From Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:19-21

 19And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.


Thus God inspired men and women over a period of 1500 years without contradiction, so that their works provide us an accurate picture of life, history, reality, and God himself.


This raises a question: how do we know we have the "right" books? What if God inspired someone, but his or her book didn't make the cut? Or what if we got the wrong books and consequently our whole view of God is wrong? Thankfully, there's ample historical documentation about the formation of the Bible that can be of great help as we tackle this challenging question.


Let us look at it in two ways, one as to what scripture says and other using external evidence.


First, explicit in scripture is the clear message that the word of God is flawless and stands forever.  


From Jesus in Matthew 24:35

35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


From Prophet David in Psalm 18:30

 30 As for God, his way is perfect;
       the word of the LORD is flawless.
       He is a shield
       for all who take refuge in him.


From Apostle Peter when he quotes from Prophet Isaiah in 1 Peter 1:23-25

23For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For,
   "All men are like grass,
      and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
   the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    25but the word of the Lord stands forever."[a] And this is the word that was preached to you.


Second, historically, there exists little debate about the Old Testament canon (the word canon originally meant "ruler" or "yardstick" and thus refers to the defined set of books by which to measure our beliefs.)  Early in their history, the Jewish people began to collect these documents that they believed were inspired of God. This belief was generally substantiated by acts of supernatural miracles done by the true prophets and messengers from God.  This collection of books included several important elements and was separated into three major segments:

·        The ten commandments and Law, originally given by God to Moses – this collection is typically called the “Law” {Taurat in Arabic}

·        Historical documents that traced God's relationship with humanity and the messages of great prophets whom God called to guide and correct the people – this collection is typically called the “Prophets”.  

·        Poems, songs, and wisdom literature that was used for worship and character formation – this collection is typically called the “Psalms” or “Writings” { Zabur in Arabic}


By the time of Jesus, most Jews considered all of these collections of works inspired of God and authoritative to their life of faith and practice. This Hebrew Bible included thirty-nine different books (the same books Christians call the OT, though in different order) and described events from the creation of the world until roughly 400 BC.


Various other Jewish books were written between 400 BC and the time of Jesus, but Jews did not consider them as part of the authoritative canon. There was a general consensus that these other writings--called the apocrypha--were beneficial for historical purposes, but that God did not inspire their authors as those before. Even Jesus confirms the canon of the OT in his teaching. He only quoted from Old Testament books and never referenced the apocryphal writings.


From Jesus in Matthew 5:17-18

 17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.


From Jesus in Luke 24:44-45

 44He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.


There remain some Christians today (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church) who include the apocrypha in their Bibles. But neither Jews, nor Jesus, nor early Christians did.


The development of the NT canon took place over the first few centuries of the early church history. Shortly after Jesus' ascension, writings began to appear from a growing group of both Jews and non-Jews who believed because of the teachings of Jesus that he was not only Israel's messiah, the Al Masih, God special anointed one, but also a savior for the world.  First, there were letters from the Apostles that were inspired of God were written to early Christians.  As the community of follower of Christ grew, stories of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were told over and over as an accurate oral tradition, and later some apostles and their companions were inspired by God to accurately record the events and message of Jesus Christ that had unfolded around them. Thus, what emerged from the first century AD was a collection of writings that included:


·        Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, teaching, death and resurrection;

·        History and letters from the Apostles for Christians regarding faith and practice;

·        Prophetic writings that described God's cosmic plans for history and humanity.


More writings appeared in the centuries that followed, but most church leaders relied on the earliest documents from the first century to govern their faith and practice. Consensus had to wait until fourth century as there was no central body that could meet and have a consensus over the wide area that Christianity had spread.  Unlike the community of Muslims later in history that had a Khalifa with authority of all of the Islamic World; Christians did not.  They were persecuted both by the Jew and Romans and had no single authority or ruler that had widespread influence.  This did not change until the fourth century.   At this point, twenty-seven New Testament books were universally recognized as inspired of God. These are the same books we study today.


This leads to a crucial question: how did church leaders choose the books of the New Testament? And perhaps more importantly, how can we be confident they made the right choice?


As the process of assembling the New Testament canon unfolded, several important criteria for inclusion guided early church leaders. These criteria, however, did not serve as a checklist by which church leaders voted books in or out. Rather, they emerged over time as Christian communities elevated certain texts for their significant and lasting value as being taught by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. The criteria for evaluating works included:

·        Apostolic Authorship. It was important that a work be authored or authorized by an apostolic witness--someone who had seen the risen Jesus. This included the twelve disciples and others like Paul and James. Later Christians understood that these first apostles who were inspired could best convey the truth about Jesus' life and its significance.  Note what Jesus promised them:


From Jesus in John 14:26

26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.


·        Widespread usage and acceptance. The early church grew quickly and broadly. Consequently, Christians of different backgrounds, nationalities, and schools of thought developed.  But when a text maintained or gained universal usage and acceptance among the varying groups, this attested to its authenticity by the multiplicity of witness to corroborate.  Note how many had seen Jesus after the resurrection.


From Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9

 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.


·        Conformity to the rule of faith. Another significant factor was the consistency between a document and the faith practiced by Christians. Therefore, works with especially questionable theology or practices dissimilar to those coming from the apostles were intensely scrutinized to validate this was taught by Jesus and not something people came up with on their own after the fact.   Note what we read from Gospel of Luke.


From Luke, a companion of Apostles Peter and Paul in Luke1:1-4

1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.


In light of these criteria, the four gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline letters, 1 Peter, and 1 John were universally recognized very early in the process. Only Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation faced more scrutiny before full acceptance. Together with the Old Testament, these books make up the Bible Christians read today.


In conclusion, we can be confident that the canonization process was thorough and trustworthy. Yet, ultimately, we believe that God superintended the decisions of Christian leaders who merely recognized what He had already inspired.  This makes sense since this is the word of God and inherent that is stands forever.   It is true that while God can communicate to humans in many different ways, the Bible or more specifically the collection of  Law (Taurat), Prophets, Psalms (Zabur) and NT (Injeel)  remains of chief significance for the Christians and all who seek Him in truth and spirit.   It is complete – it starts with creation of the Universe and mankind and ends with Judgment Day and life there after.  It is not only an anchor for faith, but also an epic narrative that tells of creation, brokenness, redemption, hope, final judgment and our place in God’s story.




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