Where did the Bible come from??
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Matt. 24:35
Have you ever wondered where the Bible came from? How did we get the actual book that we hold in our hands? Did some guy say, “Hey, Martha. Hold my calls. I’m going up to my bedroom to write me some of that there Bible stuff”? Did God get a bunch of people together and do a group project, like a “Create the Bible Weekend”? Most people have no idea how each Bible portion was written and gathered into the whole. Here
are a few more questions I’ve heard people ask: Did the people who were writing the Bible know that they were writing Scripture? Did they have any awareness that God was writing through them? Did they say to themselves, “People are going to be reading this for thousands of years”? Did some people try to write the Bible and fail? Or did they get it right the first time? Were they on a direct feed from almighty God? Or were they
like, “Hey, God, I’m not getting this part-can we go over it again?”
The answers to these questions are extremely important. By studying the history of what did happen, we can greatly amplify our confidence in God’ s Word. Amazingly, the Bible was written over 1,500years by forty different authors on three different continents: Asia,
Europe, and Africa. The classic New Testament passage on the Bible’s origin is found in 2 Timothy 3:15, which says, “From childhood you have known the sacred writings
which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
I like that phrase at the end of the verse that says essentially, “Timothy, ever since you were a kid, you’ve known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation.” A lot of times people wonder, “How does a person come to be saved? How does a person come to know the Lord in a way that gets beyond religion to a genuine relationship?” Here we learn that the key is the Word of God. It is Scripture that penetrates people’s hearts and allows them to comprehend the “wisdom that leads to salvation.”
Let me ask you that same question: “Are you wise to the ways of salvation?” Either way, that kind of wisdom, salvation wisdom, can only come from God’s Word, the book that our Creator has written. Now maybe you’re thinking, Hold on. Do you really-believe that God sat at a desk and took a pen in His hand? Well, not exactly like that. Back to 2 Timothy 3:15. The phrase “sacred writings” in verse 15 is comoposed of two Greek words, which refer to the Old Testament Scriptures. Then in verse 16, “all Scripture” was the term used in the early church to describe God’s new writings.
Notice what Paul said in verse 16: “All Scripture is inspired by God.” All of it-the old and the new are both inspired, not just the part of the Bible that speaks to you. Not just the part that agrees with human wisdom. Not only the parts that bring you comfort. All Scripture-all of it-is given by inspiration of God. All sixty-six books. All 1,189 chapters. All 41,173verses. All 3,566,480 letters. All of it! The reason this is so important is that there are some parts of God’s Word that we don’t necessarily like or agree with. True or false? Some parts make us very uncomfortable because they convict us about our behavior and contradict views that we have thought to be correct. For that reason it is essential that we understand and accept the Bible’s own assertion that all of it-the parts that bless me and the parts that stretch me–all of it is God’s Word. Notice the word inspired in 2 Timothy 3:16.Some versions say inspiration. The word inspiration translates a compound word in the original. It’s a two-part word that means God-breathed. Once you understand the concept that all Scripture is inspired or God-breathed, you will never look at the Bible the same way again.
The best illustration I’ve heard to explain the concept of God-breathed is that of a sailboat. If you’ve ever been sailing, you know how incredible it is when the wind
blows down, catches the sail, and carries the boat across the lake. The boat can’t go where the wind won’t take it. In the same sense, God breathed the words of Scripture into the human authors. Yes, there were men who wrote it down. But the words that were written
were the very words of God. God breathed or blew His words into the hearts and minds of the human sails. The end result is that what we have recorded in the Bible are
the very words of God.
You say, “Can you be more specific?” Yes, I can. Not only did God write a book, but the Holy Spirit communicated the words. With so many people attacking and denying
the true authorship of Scripture, you have to be very specific about what you mean when you say that the Bible is God’s Word. Charles Ryrie, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, illustrates how times have changed: … “Not many years ago, a1l you had to say to affirm your belief in the inspiration of the Bible was that you believed the Bible was the Word of God. That was it. But as people have sliced and diced and criticized and
hacked the Bible to bits [or tried to-obviously they’ve failed, it became necessary to add that you believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God. Later you had to include the verbally inspired Word of God. Then to mean the same thing, you had to say the plenary, verbally inspired Word of God. Today one has to say the plenary, verbally inspired, infallible Word of God. So many people have tried to undermine God’s Word that you have to be really clear about what you mean.”
Let me touch on a couple of those things. We believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. We believe God wrote the whole thing from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation
22:21. We believe that God wrote it all and not just certain parts.
Secondly, we believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture-not just that God chose the concepts, but that He chose the specific words. It wasn’t like God was a coach as the apostles were writing down the New Testament-where He would say, “Hey, now write something about the feeding of the 5,000.” God wasn’t looking over the writer’s shoulder and saying, “Good, yeah, that’s ,really good. Now” write something about how much I love them. Yeah, yeah, that’s fantastic! No, it wasn’t like that-at all. The Holy Spirit communicated the specific words-not just the paragraph headings.
You say, “Weil, okay. But weren’t the apostles writing many years after Christ lived? How can I be sure that the words they wrote down were actually the exact words that Jesus spoke? I can’t remember what my mom said on the phone yesterday. How could they remember what Jesus said twenty, maybe even thirty years earlier?” First of all, I’m sure some of the disciples must have been saying, “Hey, is anybody getting this down? Lord, hang mon for a second. Somebody grab a pencil. We’ve gotta get some of this stuff down.”
But beyond that, Jesus promised the disciples help in remembering what He said. In John 14:26- Jesus promised, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” Isn’t that a great pledge? So Jesus was like, “Hey. Don’t worry about trying to remember every single thing I say. When it comes time to write the Gospels, when it comes time to .write down the record of My life, I will have sent the Holy Spirit to indwell you, and He will bring to your mind all the words that I am speaking now.” Wow! That is so great! Look at Jolui.16:12. Not only would the Holy Spirit bring to mind the things the disciples might tend to forget, but Jesus said, “There’s a whole bunch of stuff I want to tell you guys, but you can’t handle it right now!”
John 16:12-13 says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth: for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.” So some of what the apostles wrote down in the New Testament were things that Jesus had never even spoken. The Holy Spirit was adding things under the direction of God the Father. Notice that the disciples were promised additional insight from the Holy Spirit, who would be directly involved in the inspiration and recording of Scripture.
As these truths begin to dawn upon our understanding, we can see that almighty God is very deeply invested in this book called the Bible. He could have communicated with us in a lot of different ways. He could have written His message in the sky. He could have sent us all heavenly telegrams. He could have appeared in person annually to make His will known. There are many approaches God could have used to get His information
to us. What God chose to do was to write a book. That was His plan, and that is His plan. He chose to make Himself and His will for us known in a book.
“For this reason we need to be very sure that we do not allow the words of the Bible to be diluted or compromised. They are not to be added to, subtracted from, or edited in any way. The words are not to be updated, amplified, or adjusted, not even once. In Rev. 22:19, almost the last verse in the Bible, it says, “If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city.”
Notice it says that if anyone takes away from the words of this book-not the concepts, not the thoughts, but the words. God doesn’t want people messing with His book. He doesn’t want people changing it. He doesn’t want people arrogantly thinking they can upgrade it or make it more accessible or less offensive or whatever. But there are some very troubling trends in the world today related to people taking God’s Word seriously.
First, I am concerned about the emphasis on study notes over the sacred text. It really bothers me to turn through the pages of a Bible and see the study notes written in the same font right alongside God’s Word. Some people spend more time reading the notes than what God actually wrote. There is danger in giving the words of men an authority parallel to the words of God. When you pick up the Bible, make sure you’re learning the Bible, and not just a single person’s thoughts about this book.
People have been understanding God’s Word without notes for thousands of years. Surely the most educated group of people who ever lived don’t need someone to interpret every single word.
Here’s a second trend that concerns me: marketing the Bible by creating a special version for every demographic segment of society-the High School Bible, the College Bible, the Worship Bible, the Seeker Bible, the Revival Bible, the Seniors’ Bible, the Little Kids’ Bible. It’s out of control! Where did this idea come from? From people who want to get God’s life-changing truth into the hands of everyone, or from those who want to profit from the Word of God through marketing techniques?
Next we’re going to have the Farmer’s Bible, but we’ll need a Crop Farmer’s Bible because his needs are a lot different from those of a livestock farmer! The livestock farmer will have to have his own Bible. Ridiculous! The third and most dangerous trend in our day is a dramatic shift in the actual philosophy of translation itself. For 2,000 years people translated the New Testament with one primary agenda: accuracy. They tolerated translations that were awkward or even unclear at times because they believed that the Holy Spirit gave the precise words that God the Father wanted, and their greatest passion was to know exactly what God said. But nowadays people say, “Just make it readable. People will never understand that; smooth it over, fill in the gaps, and make sure no one is left pondering what it means.” Many of today’s translators have forgotten that God’s
Word cannot be known apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:14). If the Spirit of God is opening the heart of a person, he or she will understand God’s Word. If the Spirit of God is not guiding them into truth (cf. John 16:13), no amount of” dumbing down” the Bible and injuring its accuracy will help. Good modern translations that present the greatest possible word-for-word accuracy would be the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version.
If we accept the biblical truth that God chose the words, then clearly we should not be tampering with those words in any way. But if the exact words don’t matter, maybe I should release the “Gen-X Bible” I have been working on. Here’s a sample from Luke 15:14, the story of the Prodigal Son. The English Standard Version says, “And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.” That’s an accurate translation. Now here’s my Gen-X version- “So the dude looks in his bag for a bit more green, and it’s like bone-dry. To make it worse, there’s like no food anywhere-not even a can of bean dip or something. And you know how bad you can get the munchies if you’ve been partying. So this guy is completely bent over with a hunger problem, and his formerly full pockets are way empty.’?
Is that where we want to go with the Bible? Many people are headed in that direction. We need those who will stand up for verbal inspiration. Some people say, “But, Lord, we’re helping people understand Your Word.” God’s like, “Whew! I couldn’t have done it without you.” Remember: God wrote a book! The Holy Spirit communicated the words, and the words matter! God can handle the obvious limitations of language equivalency
if we do our best to render word-far-word accuracy in our translations.
That’s God’s part. Now let’s consider the human role in the writing of Scripture. The apostles wrote the words down. This is where alot of people begin to struggle, saying, “I don’t have a problem with God’s book. As long as it’s in God’s hands, I feel really confident about it. It’s when some guy is actually writing it down-that’s what troubles me. It’s like, what if they got distracted or forgot a part or something? I forget stuff all the time. How can I be sure that they didn’t mess up the Bible somehow?” The other key New Testament passage on where the Bible came from is 2 Peter 1:20-21: “But know this first
of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
Notice first of all the phrase, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will.” While it was not man’s will creating the Scriptures, God did work through the authors’ individual personalities. God did not simply dictate the Bible. It wasn’t like John said, “Okay, now let’s do chapter 3, verse 16. ‘For’-Okay, got it. What’s next?-‘God’ -Got it. Next?-‘ so’-Got it.-‘loved’ Got it.-‘the’-Next?-‘world’-Great!/I The apostles and other authors of Scripture had more than a secretarial function. We believe that God supernaturally flowed His word-for-word truth through the personality and mind of the author. If you look at the life of Peter, for example, he was excitable, enthusiastic, and very verbal.
When you read his writings, they are the same way. He is talking about this, and then he’s talking about that, and next he’s changing the subject a third time. He’s allover the place, and you can see Peter’s personality in the way he writes. Or you might say, in the way God writes through him.
Now take the apostle Paul. He was like a lawyer: Point one, point two, point three. Perfect logic. Flawless argumentation. That’s how Paul writes. John was the one who leaned on Jesus’ bosom at the Last Supper. John was tenderhearted and loving. You can see his personality in the Gospel and Epistles God wrote through him. John constantly brings up God’s love and the way we must love each other. Do you see how God worked through the individuality of the human authors to bring the truth He wanted to communicate? It was God’s content delivered through human personality. But not just any old human personality. I don’t think many of us would have been qualified to write the Bible.
I know I wouldn’t have been. God chose the most righteous, godly people who have ever lived as the instruments to write His book. They were apostles and prophets-pure vessels, clear channels. They were men with the capacity to hear God very directly and perfectly.
These were men who had a lifetime of experience in downloading God’s heart to people.
Now we’re trying to answer the question: Where did the Bible come from? And hopefully you get the God part and the human part. Next let’s consider the book part. Maybe you think to yourself, A period of 1,500 years, forty different authors, sixty-six books. I can’t find a book that I read last year. How did sixty-six little books written over 1.5 millennia
get together in one big book?
To state it simply, the early church pulled it all together. Very early, within a very few years, the leaders of the church put these sixty-six books together, concluding, “These are the books God has written.” Again, while most people have little or no knowledge of how this happened, a clear understanding of the historical record can do a lot to bolster faith in God’s Word. The process they used involved two main steps: 1) eliminating the inferior writings; and 2) identifying the inspired writings.
ELIMINATING THE INFERIOR WRITINGS
The writing of the Scripture was complete by A.D. 95. Hundreds of manuscripts were copied and recopied so that everyone could hear the messages God had given. But there were also many writings that were not inspired by the Holy Spirit. So it wasn’t as if these sixty-six books were off in a pile all by themselves. Around and among the writings that would eventually be recognized as God’s Word were others that were of mere human origin. Canonization is the word that is used to describe how the individual books of Scripture were set apart and recognized.
The word canon actually means “measuring rod.” So the canon of Scripture is the collection of books that measured up. Norman Geisler and William Nix have written A General Introduction to the Bible,3inwhich they explain the process of canonization.
There were four categories into which the available religious writings were placed, and the first category was called the homolegomena, which means” one word” or “agreement.” These books were accepted by everyone and recognized quickly.
Then there was the second group called the antilegomena. These were books that were initially spoken against. People said, “We’re not sure about this one.
Should it really be in the Bible?” There were five Old Testament antilegomena books. People weren’t sure about the Song of Solomon at first because they thought it was too sensual. Ecclesiastes was also doubted initially because people thought it was too cynical. The book of Esther was questioned because it never mentions the name of God, though as people studied Esther, they carne to see the thread of God’s sovereignty woven beautifully through its story. The other two doubtful books were Proverbs and Ezekiel.
The New Testament books initially included in the antilegomena were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Most of these were initially doubted on the grounds of authorship. For example, until the early church fathers were convinced that John really wrote 2 and 3 John, they weren’t willing to say that it was God’s Word. All of these were initially questioned but were eventually recognized as sacred Scripture.
A third category of writings you’ve probably heard of is the apocryphal books. The word apocrypha means “hidden” or “hard to understand.” These were also in the pile of books that were examined and measured against the standard of God’s authorship. There were fourteen to fifteen apocryphal books. A battle continues over these books in that the Roman Catholic church did not fully recognize them until the middle of the second millennium.
Several apocryphal books were added to the Bible during the time of the Protestant Reformation when certain Christians were questioning specific doctrines of the Catholic church and objecting to the lack of biblical support for such teaching. These apocryphal books, which do not agree with the originally canonized books, are used to substantiate Catholic teachings such as purgatory and prayers for the dead. These later books have always been noticeably inferior, and by virtue of their contradictions of teachings of the books originally recognized, apocryphal books should not be considered books that
God wrote.
The last category of writings considered during the process of canonization was the pseudepigrapha. This grouping, though it includes possibly 300 or more writings, focused in on 18 specific ones that, while high in quality, were unanimously recognized as clearly not God’s Word. These books were filled with fanciful, magical kinds of things such as stories about Jesus when He was a little boy and how He would do tricks for His friends. Everyone agreed that these were the creations of people’s imagination rather than messages given supernaturally by God.
IDENTIFYING THE INSPIRED WRITINGS
I remember when I studied these matters for the first time, I had one burning question. You may be asking that question even now: “What specific standards did they actually use to establish the canon?” In reality there were five tests the writings had to pass in order to be considered God’s Word. We can call them “five proofs of inspiration.”
1. Authority. The book under consideration had to have authority. If you have ever studied God’s Word with an open heart, you know firsthand that it is unlike anything else you have ever read. The Bible has an almost measurable aura of authority. This authority was also present in the teaching of Jesus and was readily apparent to His audience. “They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority” (Mark1:22). Although we live in a day that repudiates authority, the early church understood that anything truly written by God would need to have an obvious ring of authority.
If you were to read through the whole Bible and circle every time it says, “And God said,” and “Thus says the Lord,” and “The word of the Lord came to,” you would discover that more than 4,000 times the writers of Scripture say without embarrassment or apology that
what they are saying and writing is the very Word of God. For this reason the early church knew that if the specific writing under consideration was in fact God’s Word, then all would agree that it communicated a sense of divine authority.
2.Authorship. Was it written by a man of God? It may have been that some were claiming that certain books were written by apostles when in fact they were not. Others were doubting truly apostolic writings simply because the subject matter or the circumstances of writing caused the apostle to write in a way that seemed different from other things he had written. Before a book could be accepted as from God, the early church wanted to be sure who the author was and that he had the credentials of one through whom God would choose to give His Word. As I mentioned above, this is why some books were initially disputed. When the authorship issue was settled, the matter was settled, and the books were included in the Scripture
3. Authenticity. Does the book tell the truth about God and man? Does the book tell the truth about salvation? Is it consistent with the rest of what we know to be God’s Word? This cross-checking is why there are no contradictions in the Bible, by the way. We like to think that we’re the smartest people who ever lived, but in reality we do not have a greater intelligence-not by a long shot. In fact, I’d like to suggest to you that the people who were living on the earth during the canonization of Scripture were extremely intelligent. Instead of wasting their lives watching television, they spent many, many years poring over the text-every word, every line, every verse, every chapter, comparing with other Scriptures back and forth, back and forth, and then confirming, “This is God’s Word because it agrees one hundred percent with everything else we know.” They would take a particular verse and compare it to the Pentateuch written by Moses. Then they would compare it to the books of each of the prophets. Then they would line the writing up with Psalms and other Old Testament books of poetry. They demanded that the message be consistent in every detail, or else it was not authentic. This is why the Apocrypha never passed the early test and was never accepted.
4.Alive. Hebrews 4:12 says that lithe word of God is living and active.” It’s powerful. It changes people’s lives. As these books were circulated, one of the things that people wanted to know was, “Is this powerful? Is this life-changing truth? Does this impact our lives?” Surely a message given by God Himself will have powerful results in the lives of those who read it. If it does, then that book was more likely to be confirmed as the Word of God.
5.Acceptance. This was the most important test of all. Did the other churches receive it as God’s Word? You can imagine as the letter to the Romans was written, it was passed around to this church and then circulated to a second church, then a third, and a fourth, and so on. As the people of God in each community read it, did they confirm and recognize that it was in fact the very Word of God, or was it simply a human communication? Were the churches unanimous in their perception of the book? First Thessalonians 2:13 records an actual occurrence of this process happening in an informal way when Paul reports: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” The strongest test of the writings was their rejection or acceptance as God’s Word by the individual churches and their elders. So that’s where the Bible came from. God wrote a book. The Holy Spirit communicated the words. Men wrote them down. The early church pulled the writings together. This process was complete by A.D. 125, but it
was not one hundred percent confirmed worldwide until about A.D. 300.
Do you believe that God wrote a book? Because if you do, then that book should be getting a lot of attention from you, shouldn’t it If God really did write a book, we ought to be reading it, studying it, memorizing it, and letting it guide our lives. Go to the next page and learn exactly what the Bible can do for you and your family.
God wrote a Book
James MacDonald
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