The Bible is one large book comprised of 66 separate historical writings. It’s split into two main parts; the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Bible is the most widely circulated book in history. It has been translated into more than 2400 languages, and the number of copies sold reaches into the billions. But where does this extraordinary book come from?
Christians believe the Bible came from God through men of God who, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, wrote down the very words of God. This belief draws many objections from skeptics and critics of Christianity, who question the Bible’s origin, authorship, content, transmission, and compilation. So, how did we get the Bible? When and where was it written? Who are the biblical authors? And how was it produced and preserved?
1. The Old Testament
The Old Testament portion of the Bible is comprised of 39 books: the 5 books of Moses (known as the Pentateuch), 12 historical books, 5 books of poetry, and the 17 books of the major and minor prophets. The Old Testament was written approximately 3,500 - 2,400 years ago by various prophets of God on a variety of materials, such as stone, clay, and leather. It was written in predominately the Hebrew language, except for a few verses in Aramaic.
2. The New Testament
The New Testament is comprised of 27 books. In regards to authorship, the apostle Paul is a central figure. He is credited with authoring nearly half of the New Testament, including most of the NT epistles. The New Testament was written in Greek, and its first writings were most likely written approximately 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Based on nearly unanimous testimony and writings of the early church fathers, the four gospels (biographies of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension) were written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John between 65 - 90 AD. Copies of the New Testament were written on a variety of materials including papyrus, leather, and parchment.
Over time the original writings of the Bible (called autographs) deteriorated and copies were made to preserve the content for future generations. Meticulous methods and procedures were developed and implemented in order to insure the accurate transmission of the Scriptures. Throughout the centuries different groups of Jewish and Christian scribes were tasked with the responsibility of guarding and preserving the text of the Bible. This process of making copies from previous copies until the invention of the printing press and more recent electronic copying methods has preserved the writings of the Bible for us today.
In regards to the Biblical canon and when these 66 historical writings were established as Scripture, Christian apologist Norman L. Geisler notes that, “the scholars at Jamnia (AD 90-118) gave final affirmation to the thirty-nine books in the Old Testament. The Council of Carthage (AD 397) established the New Testament canon of twenty-seven books.”
In the life of the Bible some key historical developments include:
- St. Jerome translating the Bible into Latin around 400 AD. The Latin Vulgate, as it's known, was the predominant translation of the Bible during the medieval period.
- The Wycliffe Bible was the first English translation, produced in the years 1380-1382.
- Gutenberg’s Latin Bible was the first produced on a printing press in 1455.
- In 1535, Coverdale’s Bible was the first complete Bible to be printed in English.
- The Geneva Bible was printed in 1560.
- And the King James Version was printed in 1611.
We’ve briefly explored some of the details regarding the origin, transmission and preservation of the Bible. However, the question remains, ‘where did the words of the Bible come from?’ Hebrews 1:1-2 states, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 states, “You must realise that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, these prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit and they spoke from God.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be equipped for every good work.” Christian apologists Josh and Sean McDowell put it this way, “The Bible actually comes from God. They are his words put in writing. A select group of men (known as prophets and apostles) wrote the Scriptures as they were guided and inspired by God.”
It truly is remarkable to think that the various historical writings that make up the Bible were written over thousands of years, by approx. 40 different authors, in various places and under various circumstances, yet all combine to form one complete harmonious revelation of God, His nature, and His plans and purposes for humanity and creation. The Bible - it’s origin, content, transmission, and preservation - truly is a miraculous gift from God.
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Further reading recommendations
'How we got the Bible?' by Timothy Paul Jones
'The Bible: a history' by Stephen M. Miller & Robert V. Huber
'How we got the Bible' by Neil R. Lightfoot
'Know how we got our Bible' by Ryan Matthew Reeves, Justin Holcomb, & Charles E. Hills