HISTORY OF THE BIBLE

By Vic Scaravilli

Christians believe that the Bible is revelation from God and base their beliefs around the words of Scriptures. Unfortunately, most just accept that the Bible is the complete Word of God without even knowing how, when, by whom, and by what authority it came into existence. In order to be absolutely sure that the Bible is God’s Word and to appreciate its message, we need to understand its history and how God, through the Holy Spirit, gave us His inspired message.

The Bible, Greek word meaning books, is God’s divine love letter to us. It is the history of God’s family that shows the fall and return to God by His people. The Bible is the inspired words of God written in the words of men.

The complete Bible that we have today was written approximately between 2000 BC and 100AD. The first half of the Bible is called the Old Testament (OT) because it was written before the coming of Christ and it contained the story of God’s people and how they became His chosen family. The OT tells us of the series of covenants that God made with his people leading up to the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Most of the OT was written in Hebrew because it was composed by Jews for the Jewish people. The OT remained in Hebrew until the Babylonian exile when Jews left Palestine to settle in other areas. As a result, the Hebrew language was replaced by Greek as the main language for Jews living outside of Palestine.

Approximately 280 B.C., the world’s greatest library in Alexandria obtained books from the known world translating them into Greek. At this time the Hebrew OT was translated by seventy rabbis into the Greek language and was called the Septuagint, the Latin word meaning seventy. The Septuagint contained 46 books.

This Greek translation was the acknowledged Bible of the Jews and was the version used by Christ and his disciples. We know that the Septuagint was used during the time of Jesus because approximately 350 references were made to the OT by the writers of the New Testament (NT). Over 300 refer to the Septuagint and not the Hebrew version of Scriptures. Just one example of this is from Mark 7:6-8 where Jesus is discussing human tradition. He quotes a version of the passage from Isaiah 29:13 found only in the Septuagint.

Judaism did not make an official decision about which books belonged to its Bible until approximately the end of the first century. These leaders rejected 7 books from the Septuagint and established the Hebrew Canon. This definition of Scriptures was made after most of the apostles were dead and much of the NT was written. These leaders were extremely anti-Christian. They also rejected the NT writings at that time.

The seven books that were rejected by these rabbis were Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch.

The New Testament (NT) was written approximately between 50 and 100AD after Christ ascended to heaven. The early churches did not have the complete NT writings to follow as we do today but used the Oral Tradition of the apostles to know the truth that was taught by Jesus as well as the OT Scriptures (2Thess 2:15; 1Cor. 11:2). During that time, however, there were hundreds of writings all claiming to be inspired circulating among the early churches. Unfortunately, there was not unanimous consensus among the churches and the Church Fathers on which writings were actually inspired.

A few examples were the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Gospel of Thomas, Acts of John, Acts of Thomas, Acts of Paul, and the Apocolypse of Peter. There were an estimated 50 versions of the gospels and 22 Acts in circulation.

God allowed the inspired writings to be collected into the canon of the Bible under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. He worked through the authoritative Catholic Church that Christ established and allowed them to determine which books were to be considered inspired Scriptures.

The Church met in councils, similar to what is described in Acts 15, and made the decision of what books to accept as inspired. A council met in Hippo in 393 A.D. where it selected the 27 books of the NT and re-ratified the 46 books of the OT. Again in 397 A.D., The Council of Carthage confirmed and approved the decrees of the previous council. Pope Innocent 1, in 405 A.D. approved this African Code. Presently, the 27 books of the NT and the 46 books of the OT have been affirmed 7 times by a general council and 3 times by an ecumenical council. As a result of these councils, the canonized Bible contains 73 books.

For the next 1,100 years, the canon of the Christian Bible contained 73 books. In the 1500’s when Martin Luther rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and started the Reformation, he decided that 7 books in the Old Testament were not on the same level as the other books in the Bible. He also questioned 4 books of the NT, James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation, because he questioned its inspiration.

Today, there is a difference in the number of books in Bibles. The Catholic Bible contains the original 73 books that were canonized in the 4th century while the Protestant Bible followed Luther’s concern of the inspiration of the 7 books in the Old Testament. As a result, Protestants eventually omitted 7 books from the Old Testament and now have only 66 books in their version.

God, working through the Holy Spirit, allowed people to write inspired Scripture, teach Christ’s truths, canonize, and preserve the inspired Word of God. The Bible was given to us, through God, by Christ’s authoritative Church. Since the Bible is the primary source of God’s revelation, let us cherish this book and read the Scriptures so we may have a better understanding of God’s love for us. Christ is present in His Word and when we read it, we can obtain a more intimate relationship with our Savior.

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