How the Bible was Compiled


June 14, 2019 10:50 am Published by Comments Off on How the Bible was Compiled

The Bible consists of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The terms Old Testament and New Testament were first used by Tertullian at about 170 AD. There are also many other books which were excluded from the canon of the Bible. A canon is an accepted authoritative collection of authoritative sacred writings of the Bible. How was it determined what to include and what to exclude from the Bible?

Canon of the Old Testament
When the early Christians spoke of “Scripture” they meant the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as Septuagint (LXX). The Septuagint was translated in Alexandria, Egypt, between 300 and 200 BC.

King Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt commissioned 70 Jewish scholars to carry out the task of translation. The term “Septuagint” means seventy in Latin and it gives credit to the 70 scholars. The translation was made to cater for those in Jewish Diaspora who were not conversant with their Hebrew language.

There was a difference between the canon in the Greek Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible because the Septuagint had additional books and passages known as the Apocrypha. These are Judith, Tobit, Baruch, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom of Solomon, First and Second Maccabees, and additions to the books of Esther and Daniel.

These were written during the period between Malachi (the last book in the Hebrew Bible) and the arrival of Jesus Christ. They were included in the Septuagint for historical and religious purposes.

The Hebrew Old Testament is made up of 24 books which are equivalent to the 39 books common to all Protestants. The Protestant Old Testament has got more books that the Hebrew Bible because the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah were each divided into two books in the Christian canon while the Hebrew book of the Twelve Minor Prophets was split into twelve books, one for each prophet.

From 382 to 405 AD, Jerome translated the Old Testament into Latin using Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. He called the extra books in the Septuagint the hidden books or the Apocrypha. He included them in his translation thus making a total of 46 books in his Latin Vulgate Bible which was used in Europe for over 1000 years.

The term “Apocrypha” generally refers to books entirely outside of the Biblical canon which are not considered inspired. The term is also commonly used to refer to any book whose authorship or authenticity is questionable.

In 1534, Martin Luther removed the Apocryphal books from his translation of the Bible into German and placed them in a section of their own that he labeled “Apocrypha.” Luther considered the Apocryphal books good for reading but not part of the inspired Scripture.

The King James Bible of 1611 included the books of Apocrypha but it placed them in a section of their own between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In 1647, the Church of England excluded them from the English Bible. Other Protestant Churches followed suit and excluded them from their Bibles.

In the 1540s, the Council of Trent gave the final list of books in the Catholic Bible. The list included the books of the Apocrypha. The Council sealed the books of the Catholic Bible and no one can add or remove any book from their Bible. The Apocryphal books are used by the Catholic Church to substantiate and support errant doctrines such as prayers for the dead, worship of angels, veneration of saints, purgatory and the sale of indulgences.

Today, the Protestant Old Testament has got 39 books while the Catholic Bible has got 46 books which include Tobit, Judith, Maccabees I and II, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Baruch. On the other hand, the Orthodox Old Testament has got 49 books as it has got three additional books which are Maccabees III, Letter of Jeremiah and Esdras I.

The New Testament Canon
The teachings of Jesus and the apostles were at first transmitted orally before they were written down. Both their oral and written teachings were considered authoritative by the early Christians.

In addition, there were over 100 New Testament Apocryphal books in circulation which were attributed to certain authors but were not proven or universally accepted to be their works. Since there was no approved list, different books were read in different churches.

Since there were so many inspired and uninspired books in circulation, there was a need for the church to separate the canonical books from the uncanonical books. In the final analysis, only the 27 books of the New Testament were selected as canonical.

Marcion’s Canon
The first collection of New Testament books was made by Marcion in 140 AD. Marcion hated the Jews and the material world. He moved to Rome in 144 where he gathered a following. He was excommunicated because his doctrines contradicted those of the church. He founded his own church which lasted for several centuries.

Marcion taught that the God of the Old Testament had created the material world and placed people on it. He also not only inspired the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures but also discriminated against other people by choosing the Jews as his people. He was an angry God who was always punishing people who disobeyed him.

Over and above the God of the Old Testament was the God of the Christians who was not vindictive as he sought love and not obedience. The supreme God sent Jesus to save us. Jesus was not born of Mary as that would have made him subject to the Old Testament God. Jesus appeared as an adult during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Marcion also taught that there will be no judgment because the Supreme God is loving and he will forgive everyone.

Marcion got rid of the Old Testament as it was inspired by the God of the Jews. He also rejected all the gospels except the gospel of Luke from which he cut out all references to the Jews. He ended up with a canon that included the gospel of Luke and 10 epistles of Paul. Marcion considered Paul to have been the only person who had understood the message of Jesus.

Marcion and other gnostics prompted the church to define what belonged to the written apostolic teachings. This began the process of the collection of New Testament books.

The Process
The second known collection of New Testament books is the Muratorian canon also made in the second century. The canon included the 4 gospels, Acts, 13 of Paul’s epistles, Jude, 2 John, Revelation, Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon. The canon also mentioned the book of Shepherd of Hermas which was recommended for reading in churches but not to be given to people to read for themselves.

Tertullian of Carthage in his canon of third century included the 4 gospels, Acts, 13 of Paul’s epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John, Jude and Revelation. He also mentioned that the book of Hebrews was the work of Barnabas and he thought it was worthy to be included in the canon.

Origen was the first in the third century to distinguish between the undisputed and the disputed books of the New Testament. The undisputed books were the 4 gospels, Acts, Pauline epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation. The disputed books were 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, Jude, Didache and Epistle of Barnabas. He also mentioned other books that were in circulation such as the gospel according to the Hebrews and the Acts of Paul.

Cyprian in the third century came up with his list which included the 4 gospels, Acts, 9 of Paul’s epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation. He also cited Shepherd of Hermas as scripture and recognized Didache as apostolic quotations. John of Chrysostom, who was the bishop of Constantinople, gave a list which excluded 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation.

Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century, divided the New Testament books into three categories: universally acknowledged, disputed and spurious. The universally acknowledged books were the 4 gospels, Acts, Paul’s 13 epistles, Hebrews, 1 John, 1 Peter and Revelation. Disputed books were James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John. Spurious books included Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache and Revelation. Eusebius also mentioned heretical books such as the gospel of Thomas, gospel of Matthias and other books bearing the names of the apostles.

In 363, the Council of Laodicea came out with a list of 26 New Testament books. Only Revelation was excluded from that canon. The same list of 26 books was given by Cyril of Jerusalem and by Gregory of Nazianzus.

In 367, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, was the first to come up with a list that included all the 27 books of the New Testament canon without making any distinction between them. Amphilochius of Iconium also gave a list of the same 27 books but he mentioned that Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation were spurious. Augustine in the fifth century listed the 27 books in his works.

The 27 books were later declared canonical at the Council of Hippo in 393 and at the Third Council of Carthage in 397. The same councils also declared the 46 Old Testament books as canonical. At the order of Pope Damasus I, Jerome translated the 46 Old Testament books and the 27 New Testament books into Latin. In 419, the sixth Council of Carthage re-promulgated the same canon of the Bible.

Criteria for Canonicity
One of the criteria used for canonicity was apostolic authority; the book must have been written by one of the apostles or by a close associate of an apostle. Secondly, antiquity was also considered. The book must have been written in the first century. Thirdly, the orthodoxy of the book was considered; it must teach the apostolic faith and not contradict it. Fourthly, it must have been cited by early Christian writers and be accepted by most of the churches.

Above all, the book must be inspired because “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Conclusion
The canonicity of the 27 books of the New Testament and the 46 books of the Old Testament was determined in the fourth century. The establishment of the canon of the New Testament was especially a long process that took about 300 years to complete. The canonization of the New Testament took a long time because it was not an issue that divided the church. Secondly, the churches were then not under one central authority. The books which were not included in the New Testament canon are known as New Testament Apocrypha.


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