The Origin of the Bible
All Christians revere the Bible as the written word of God. Few, however, know why that is. In fact, most Christians just assume that to be the case without ever questioning it. They hear it from their pastors and their churches. Everybody says it. But how do we know the Bible really is the authentic Scriptures for all Christians? There is really only one way. We need to know where the Bible came from.
So, where did the Bible Come from?
The Old Testament
To understand where the Bible came from, we have to know a little history. Let’s go back, way back, to the 1st century AD. Jesus and his apostles were travelling the countryside in Galilee and Judea. They were Jews, and because they were Jews, they were using the Jewish Bible. Today we call that Jewish Bible the “Old Testament.” This was all they had at the time.
Now they didn’t carry one around with them. No. Back then, Jewish Bibles were written on parchment scrolls and were very large. They were also extremely expensive, as they had to be hand-copied by Jewish scribes. Just one could cost as much as a year’s wages for the common working man. So they were kept locked up in a circular box, called a “tabernacle,” most of the time. This was kept in the local synagogue. When used, they were taken out of the tabernacle and unrolled to a particular place for reading and study. Jewish rabbis were men who were able to commit these Scripture passages to memory, and demonstrated some mastery of what the text said and what it meant.
However, there wasn’t just one Jewish Bible. In fact, there were THREE! You see, each mainline Jewish sect had its own canon it considered authoritative. (A canon is a list of books that make up a Bible.) In first-century Palestine, these are the canons that existed…
- The Torah – These were the first five books of Moses, originally written in Hebrew. All Jews considered these books authoritative. However, the Sadducees limited their canon to just those five books and excluded everything else, such as the psalms, prophets, history, etc. Jesus and his apostles clearly disagreed with this approach.
- The Tanakh – These were the first five books of Moses, plus the writings of history, psalms, poetry, and the prophets. Some were written in Hebrew, others in Aramaic. In total, there were about 39 books. This was the canon of the Pharisees. From the writings of the apostles we learn that Jesus and his followers agreed more with the Pharisees than they did with the Sadducees, on some things, and accepted the Pharisaical canon of Scripture as more authoritative. This is commonly known as the Protocanon (proto- is Greek meaning “first” so “first-canon”), because it was the first canon of Scripture used by the ancient Jews primarily in the Holy Land.
- The Septuagint – These were all the books mentioned above in the Tanakh, plus seven more, for a total of 46 books with longer editions to the books of Esther and Daniel. The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Pharisee canon (Protocanon or Tanakh) that had some additions which many Jews considered authoritative as well. Among those Jews were Jesus and his apostles. We know this because the majority of Old Testament quotations, in the New Testament, come from the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew and Aramaic Tanakh. This Septuagint is commonly known as the Deuterocanon, (deutero- is Greek meaning “second” so “second-canon”), because it was the second canon of Scripture used by the ancient Jews who lived outside of the Holy Land.
Upon examining the writings of the apostles, it becomes apparent that they accepted as authoritative both the Tanakh (Protocanon) and the Septuagint (Deuterocanon) on equal footing. This is why the Early Church synods decreed that the Old Testament should always have 46 books, based on the expanded Deuterocanon (Septuagint), because that canon already had all the books of the shorter Protocanon (Tanakh). Thus, Christians have always had 46 books in the Old Testament.
It wasn’t until Martin Luther came along in the 16th century, that the Christian canon of Scripture was revised. Luther removed 7 books from the Old Testament, preferring to copy the Protocanon ( or Tanakh) of the Pharisees, and reducing the Protestant Old Testament to 39 books. Today, Christians who follow the teachings of Martin Luther (Protestants) have just 39 books in their Old Testament, while as Christians who strictly follow the apostles’ canon (Catholics) have 46 books in their Old Testament. The books Martin Luther removed, to copy the Pharisee Tanakh, were as follows…
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- some chapters in Esther and Daniel
What kind of Bible do you have? If your Old Testament has 39 books, your Bible is a Protestant Bible, and it’s modeled after the canon of Martin Luther and the Pharisees. If your Old Testament has 46 books, your Bible is a Catholic Bible, and it’s modeled after the teachings of the Apostles of Christ and the bishops of the Early Church. Examples of some English Bibles that contain all 46 Old Testament books are as follows…
- New American Bible (NAB)
- New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE)
- Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE)
- Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition (RSC-2CE)
- New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
- Good News Translation – Catholic Edition (GNT-CE)
- Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB)
- King James Bible – with Apocrypha (KJV-Apocrypha)
The New Testament
Now when it comes to the New Testament, all Christians of all types agree. There are exactly 27 books, no more and no less. How did the early Christians decide on these books?
The answer requires a little more knowledge of history. From the time of Jesus, all the way into the 4th century (about 360 years later), Christians had no set New Testament. What they had instead was a number of scrolls that came from the apostolic era. What scrolls they used had a lot to do with where they were located, and the tradition of their bishops, as each area used a slightly different set of scrolls. Thus, early Christianity had no set or standardized New Testament canon.
A couple centuries prior to this, a dynamic and charismatic lay-preacher named Marcion created quite a stir. He was a wealthy ship owner and son of a bishop in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He rejected the Old Testament entirely, and pitted the Gospel against the Old Testament, the Christian God against the Jewish God, as if they were two separate gods, the Christian God being good and the Jewish God being evil. Marcion came up with the first list of books (canon) for his New Testament. It consisted of just 12 books, which included his own epistle and a modified version of the Gospel according to Luke. He accepted the following Christian writings in this order:
- Gospel according to Luke (Marcion’s version)
- Antithesis (Marcion’s Epistle)
- I Corinthians
- II Corinthians
- I Thessalonians
- II Thessalonians
That happened in AD 144. Marcion was later denounced as a heretic and his New Testament list (canon) was rejected as deficient. Still, while most Christians used all of these books, with the exception of Marcion’s epistle and modified gospel, there was no continuity between communities. Some used all of these, some less and some more. This remained the status quo until the late 4th century.
So when the early Church met at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) to refute the rogue priest Arius and his heresy (the denial of Christ’s divinity), they also reaffirmed their refutation of Marcion, and they made two monumental decisions that would change the history of Christianity forever.
The first was the creation of the Nicean Creed. This creed would be memorized and recited by all Christians every Sunday for the rest of history. This creed is still recited to this day in all Catholic churches, as well as Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican churches, Lutheran churches, and several other churches.
The Nicene Creed
I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all
things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his
Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God;
Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things
were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was
incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man: And was
crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried: And the
third day lie rose again according to the Scriptures: And ascended into heaven, And
sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to
judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom, shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth
from the Father and the Son;* Who with the Father and the Son together is
worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the Prophets: And I believe one Catholic
and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins: And I
look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the Life of the world to come. Amen
* This phrase “and the son” (Latin: filioque) is omitted by the Eastern Orthodox.
The second was the decision to standardize a New Testament canon based entirely on the Tradition of the apostles, as still taught and preserved by the Catholic bishops of that time, so as to counter the persistent heresies of Marcion and his false New Testament canon. Thus, the decision was made to compile the New Testament we all know and use today. But for years the work was ongoing among Catholic bishops to discern the required books within Apostolic Tradition.
In AD 367, about 40 years after the Council of Nicea, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt, compiled a list of 27 books, starting with the Gospel of St. Matthew, and ending with the Apocalypse of St. John (Book of Revelation). His work was a compilation of lists derived from other Catholic bishops in Europe, west Asia and north Africa. Bishop Athanasius was a fierce opponent of Arianism, and was well-known in the region for keeping his dioceses clean of the Arian heresy. At the Synods of Rome, Hippo and Carthage (late 3rd century), Athanasius’ list of 27 books was adopted as the Christian New Testament. In the year AD 405, Pope Innocent I decreed that all Christians would now use this 27-book list (canon) as the universal and standard Christian New Testament. All other canons of the New Testament, being used by various bishops everywhere, were to be suppressed, in favor of this new pope-approved canon…
- Acts of the Apostles
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John
- 2 John
- 3 John
That’s how we got the Bible. It came from the tireless work of Catholic bishops in the 4th century, and the decree of a pope in the early 5th century. The Old Testament was decided early, by the apostles, and affirmed by the pope and Catholic bishops of the 4th century. The New Testament wasn’t decided until the late 4th century, and affirmed by the pope in the early 5th century. These are the historical facts of how we got the Bible. You need not take my word for it. Just go to any library, anywhere, and pick up a reputable history book on the origin of the Bible. See for yourself.
It is worthy to note that Martin Luther, in addition to removing books from the Old Testament canon, also tried to remove books from the New Testament canon. This, however, didn’t stick, and his followers later ignored his wishes on this after he died. The four books he tried to remove from the New Testament were…
If you like your Bible, and you appreciate that it doesn’t contain the heresies of Arianism and Marcionism, you can thank Pope Innocent I and Catholic bishops of the 4th century. Sadly, many Christians today show no appreciation to the Catholic Church for its gift of the Bible, and instead accept the Bible blindly, without knowing its history, while proverbially “spitting” on its original publisher (the Catholic Church). It’s an odd behavior to be sure, but very common these days.