How We Got Our Bible: The Fascinating Journey of Scripture Formation
The Bible is a collection of sacred texts that serve as a foundation of the Christian faith. But how did this collection of texts come to be? What was the process of selecting which books were included, and which were left out? In this article, we will explore the fascinating journey of scripture formation and discover how we got our Bible.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament is the first part of the Christian Bible, and it contains the Jewish scriptures. These texts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek over a period of about 1,000 years, from around 1200 BCE to 100 CE. The process of selecting which books were included in the Old Testament was a lengthy one.
In the early days of Judaism, there was no standardized canon of scripture. Different Jewish communities had different collections of texts that they considered to be sacred. However, by the time of Jesus, there was a general agreement on which books were considered to be authoritative. These included the books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets), and the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah).
The New Testament
The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible, and it contains the stories of Jesus and the early Christian church. The process of selecting which books were included in the New Testament was even more complex than that of the Old Testament.
After the death of Jesus, the apostles and other early Christian leaders began to write letters and accounts of their experiences. These documents were circulated among different Christian communities, and some were considered to be more authoritative than others. However, there was no agreed-upon canon of scripture until the fourth century CE.
In 367 CE, Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, wrote a letter in which he listed the books that should be considered authoritative. This list included the 27 books that are now included in the New Testament. However, it took several more centuries for this list to be universally accepted by all Christian communities.
The Role of Councils
One of the key factors in the formation of the biblical canon was the role of church councils. These were gatherings of church leaders who met to discuss important theological issues. Several councils played a crucial role in determining which books would be included in the Bible.
The Council of Hippo in 393 CE was one of the first to list the books of the Old and New Testaments that should be considered authoritative. The Council of Carthage in 397 CE confirmed this list, and several other councils over the next few centuries also affirmed the same canon of scripture.
One of the most interesting aspects of the formation of the biblical canon is the role of apocryphal books. These are texts that were not included in the final canon of scripture, but were still considered to be sacred by some Christian communities. Examples of apocryphal books include the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary.
Some of these apocryphal books were almost included in the Bible. For example, the Book of Revelation was not universally accepted until the fourth century CE, and the Gospel of John was initially controversial because it contained some teachings that were considered to be heretical.
The process of forming the biblical canon was a long and complex one. It involved the selection of which books would be included, the role of church councils, and the ongoing debate about the status of apocryphal books. However, despite these challenges, the Bible remains a foundational text of the Christian faith, and its message continues to inspire and guide millions of people around the world.