How Did We Get the Bible?
God used quite a variety of writers and circumstances to compose what we now call the Bible. God took his time. In fact, at least 1,500 years passed between the writing of the earliest books to the writing of the last books of the Bible. Yet despite the passage of generations and nations, the message of the Bible maintains a startling consistency. Dozens of writers contributed to scripture, yet they present a unified voice—God’s Word. Many minds went into the writing; one mind provided the inspiration—God’s Spirit.
The apostle Peter summarized the process when he wrote: “Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophets’ own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The apostle Paul offered the best known statement regarding the Spirit’s work behind the scenes in creating the Bible: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16). Only God could have brought into being this amazing book we now get to hold in our hands.
Jesus Christ is the focus of Scripture. Walking the road to Emmaus on the morning of his resurrection, Jesus gave two disciples a survey of the Bible: “Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Scriptures to which Luke referred in that verse were the Old Testament writings. If the ancient Hebrew Scriptures were all about Christ, then certainly the New Testament has the same central figure and purpose—Jesus.
In answering the question, “How did we get the Bible?” we need to remember that the process had those two major steps. (1) The Old Testament represents God’s Word delivered to and through the Jewish people before Christ, and (2) The New Testament represents God’s Word written by Jesus’ followers during the first century.
In the majority of the New Testament books or letters, we have a pretty good idea who those writers were. The main principle that emerges is the fact that the authors had personal knowledge and contact with Jesus. As to how we ended up with twenty-seven “books” in the New Testament, it’s important to realize that no individual or small group or church council ever sat down and sorted through a huge stack of “possibilities” from which they selected the “books” of the New Testament. The role of individuals and groups in the formation of the New Testament had more to do with recognition than choosing.
At certain key points, believers gathered and confirmed the fact that a collection of writings had demonstrated a unique and shared tone, content, background, and power that set them apart as “volumes” in God’s Word. There’s a lot of history and many opinions about the process, but in the end we are face to face with a collection of books that speak in harmony about God’s work in history and God’s dealings with his creation, centered on his own visit to the world in Jesus Christ. God inspired all of scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), and his character pervades every verse.