How We Got the Bible

Our Bibles went through God's five step process: (1) Revelation, (2) Inspiration, (3) Canonicity, (4) Preservation, and (5) Transmission.

How We Got the Bible
Photo by Kiwihug / Unsplash

As a young believer, I trusted the Bible as God’s Word. It is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative.

But as I read the Bible more, I would ask the following questions:

  • Can I be sure that the Bible is the true Word of God?
  • Where did the Bible come from?
  • Did any books of the Bible get lost?
  • Is there more Scripture beyond the current 66 books?
  • Who determined, and on what basis, that the Bible would comprise the traditional list of 66 books?
  • Has God protected the Bible from human errors (careless transcription mistakes or ill motived edits) over the years?
  • How close to the original manuscripts are today’s translations?

The Bible’s Claim About Itself

The Old Testament states that God spoke in His written word over 2000 times. The New Testament refers to itself as “the Word of God” over 40 times.

The “Word of God” is equated with the Old Testament.

“Thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13)

The “Word of God” is equated with Jesus’ preaching.

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret.” (Luke 5:1)

The “Word of God” is equated with the apostles’ teaching.

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2)

The Bible is unique and set apart from any other religious instruction (Psalm 19, Psalm 119)

The Bible is inspired by God.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The Bible is sufficient.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

The Bible is inerrant.

“The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” (Psalm 12:6)

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Proverbs 30:5)

Five Steps to God’s Publishing Process of the Bible

1. Revelation

God took the initiative to reveal Himself to mankind. He revealed Himself through creation, through visions and dreams, through prophets, and ultimately through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Since God’s Son has ascended into heaven, our most complete revelation of God is through the Bible. The Bible is unique in that it is God’s completed revelation to us declaring man’s sinfulness and God’s provision of the Savior.

2. Inspiration

The relegation of God was captured in the writings of Scripture by means of “inspiration.”

“All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16a)

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

The Word of God was protected from human error in its original record by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit extends to the individual words and the the whole of the original writings.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)

“They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.” (Zechariah 7:12)

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” (Matthew 1:22)

3. Canonicity

The Bible is actually one book with one Divine Author. It was written over a period of 1500 years through the pens of almost 40 human writers.

Three principles were used to validate these original writings that were divinely revealed and inspired.

  • The writing had to have a recognized prophet or apostle as its author or one associated with them.
  • The writing could not disagree with or contradict previous Scripture.
  • The writing had to have general consensus by the church as an inspired book.

When various councils met in church history to consider the canon, they did not vote for the canonicity of a book. They recognized after the fact what God had already written.

The Old Testament canon of Christ’s day conforms to the OT that has since been used throughout the centuries. It does not contain the Apocrypha. Not one passage from the Apocrypha is cited by any NT writer. Jesus did not affirm any of the Apocrypha as He recognized the OT canon of His era.

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:27, 44)

The Old Testament canon of Christ’s day contains all the same material as the 39 books of our modern versions.

The New Testament canon applied the same three principles. Mark was considered the penmen for Peter. Luke and Acts were written by Luke who was Paul’s penmen. James and Jude were written by Jesus’ half-brothers.

Hebrews is the only NT book whose authorship is unknown. Its content is so in line with both the OT and NT, the early church concluded it must have been written by an apostolic associate.

The 27 books of the New Testament have been universally accepted since A.D. 350-400 as inspired by God.

4. Preservation

Satan is committed to do everything he can to corrupt and destroy God’s word.

“As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.” (Jeremiah 36:23)

God promises that He will preserve His Word. No inspired Scripture has been lost in the past and still awaits discovery.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:21)

“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

“But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” (Luke 16:17)

5. Transmission

People desired to have the Bible in their own language, which required translations from the original Hebrew and Aramaic languages of the OT and the Greek of the NT. How can we be sure that error has not crept in, even if it was unintentional?

The Bible was hand copied until the printing press arrived in A.D. 1450; this process can also introduce the possibility of error.

There is an amazing array of biblical manuscripts from both the Old and New Testaments. The number of existing biblical manuscripts dramatically outdistances the existing fragments of any other ancient literature.

Although existing copies of the main, ancient Hebrew text (Masoretic) date back only to the tenth century A.D., two other important lines of textual evidence bolster the confidence of textual critics that they have reclaimed the originals.

  • The tenth century A.D. Hebrew OT can be compared to the Greek translation called the Septuagint or LXX (written ca. 200–150 B.C.; the oldest existing manuscripts dates to ca. A.D. 325). There is amazing consistency between the two, which speaks of the accuracy in copying the Hebrew text for centuries.
  • The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947–1956 (manuscripts that are dated ca. 200–100 B.C.) proved to be monumentally important. After comparing the earlier Hebrew texts with the later ones, only a few slight variants were discovered, none of which changed the meaning of any passage.

Although the OT had been translated and copied for centuries, the latest version was essentially the same as the earlier ones.

The NT findings are even more decisive because a much larger amount of material is available for study; there are over 5,000 Greek NT manuscripts that range from the whole testament to scraps of papyri which contain as little as part of one verse. A few existing fragments date back to within 25–50 years of the original writing.

NT textual scholars have generally concluded that 99.99 percent of the original writings have been reclaimed, and of the remaining one hundredth of one percent, there are no variants substantially affecting any Christian doctrine.

Any errors which have been introduced and perpetuated by the thousands of translations over the centuries can be identified and corrected by comparing the translation or copy with the reassembled original. By this providential means, God has made good His promise to preserve the Scriptures.

There are translations available today which are worthy of the title, The Word of God. The history of a full, English translation Bible began with John Wycliffe (ca. A.D. 1330–1384), who made the first English translation of the whole Bible. Later, William Tyndale was associated with the first complete, printed NT in English, ca. A.D. 1526. Myles Coverdale followed in A.D. 1535, by delivering the first complete Bible printed in English. By A.D. 1611, the King James Version (KJV) had been completed.

Today, the better English translations of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures include:

  • New King James Version (NKJV)
  • New International Version (NIV)
  • English Standard Version (ESV)
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB)
  • Legacy Standard Bible (LSB)

The Bible Is Complete

Will God add a 67th book of the Bible? Is the “canon” closed forever? The Bible warns that no one should delete or add to the Scriptures.

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32)

“Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:6)

Canonical books came after these words of warning. We can conclude that no deletions whatsoever were permitted. We can also conclude that authorized, inspired writings were permitted to be added in order to complete the canon protected by those passages. The most compelling text on the closed canon is the Scripture to which nothing has been added for 1,900 years.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

  • The book of Revelation is unique to the Scripture in that it describes with unparalleled detail the end-time events that precede eternity future. As Genesis began Scripture by bridging the gap from eternity past into our time/space existence with the only detailed creation account (Gen. 1, 2), so there was a parallel silence after John delivered Revelation. This also leads to the conclusion that the NT canon was then closed.
  • Just as there was prophetic silence after Malachi completed the OT canon, so there was a parallel silence after John delivered Revelation. This leads to the conclusion that the NT canon was then closed also.
  • Since there have not been, nor now are, any authorized prophets or apostles in either the OT and NT sense, there are not any potential authors of future inspired, canonical writings. God’s Word, “once for all delivered to the saints,” is never to be added to, but to be earnestly contended for (Jude 3).
  • Of the four exhortations not to tamper with Scripture, only the one in Revelation 22:18, 19 contains warnings of severe divine judgement for disobedience. Further, Revelation is the only book of the NT to end with this kind of admonition and was written over twenty years after any other NT book. Therefore, these facts strongly suggest that Revelation was the last book of the canon and that the Bible is complete; to either add or delete would bring God’s severe displeasure.
  • Finally, the early church, those closest in time to the apostles, believed that Revelation concluded God’s inspired writings, the Scriptures.

So we can conclude, based on solid Biblical reasoning, that the canon is and will remain closed.