What is it?
The Bible is the Christian’s handbook for life. Paul wrote to Timothy, “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 Tim. 3:16-17).
The Bible is comprised of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament consists of 39 books which span the period from the Creation up to the last prophets who ministered before the birth of Christ. These books can be broken down further into groups:
- the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). These are the first five books of the Bible, also called the five books of Moses, also called the Torah by Jews (with the rest of the Old Testament being called the Tanach). These books were written by Moses and cover the period from the Creation up to God giving the children of Israel the Law through Moses, just prior to the Israelites entering the Promised Land.
- history books (Joshua to Esther). These cover the history of Israel from the time when the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua, through the period of the kings and the exile of both the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon, up to the time of Esther during the Persian Empire.
- poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs/Song of Solomon). These books are written in Hebrew poetical form – the ‘rhyming’ of ideas or thoughts.
- major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel). The ‘major’ prophets are so-called because the books are generally longer than the ‘minor’ prophets. They contain prophecies, where God foretells in advance future events. Some of these have been fulfilled, but others are yet to be fulfilled.
- minor prophets (Hosea to Malachi). These are each shorter in length than the ‘major’ prophets, but are no less important. The first nine (Hosea to Zephaniah) ministered prior to the Babylonian captivity, while the final three (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) are ‘post-exile’, ministering after the Jews returned to the land from captivity.
The New Testament consists of 27 books, usually grouped as follows:
- the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ from different viewpoints. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they are written in a narrative style, describing events and sermons, while John’s Gospel has a different structure as he sought to describe who Jesus was.
- the book of Acts, describing the history of the early church after Jesus ascended to heaven. This is the only ‘history’ book of the New Testament.
- the epistles (Romans to Jude). These are grouped by author: firstly, the epistles written by Paul (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, possibly Hebrews although this is controversial), James the brother of Jesus, Peter, John, and Jude the brother of Jesus. These are letters written to various churches and individuals, describing how we should live the Christian life.
- the book of Revelation, which is prophetic and concerns the last days when God’s judgement is executed upon the world and Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom.
How was it written?
The original text of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some parts in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:18, Dan. 2-7). It was assembled in the days of Ezra (550 BC); this was called the Vorlage. In 285-270 BC the Vorlage was translated by seventy scribes into Greek, the language used by the people at that time; this was called the Septuagint version. In the New Testament, quotes from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint translation. In 90 AD the Jews were upset that Christians were using ‘their’ Bible, and so the Masoretic text was produced in Hebrew. The oldest manuscript fragments of the Masoretic text date back to the tenth century. The Dead Sea scrolls, found in Qumram in 1947, date from the first century AD and agree with the Septuagint and Vorlage.
The original text of the New Testament was written in common Greek. The earliest fragments we have date to the first century; the earliest complete New Testaments are the Codex Vaticanus (325 AD) and Codex Siniaticus (350 AD). Around the time that Constantine made Christianity legal, a standardised New Testament was produced, called Textus Receptus (‘received text’).
In 400 AD Latin surpassed Greek as the common language of the world, and the Septuagint, New Testament, and available Hebrew manuscripts were translated into Latin. This is the Vulgate translation. The first English translation was produced by John Wycliffe in 1537.
Who wrote it?
The Holy Spirit inspired certain people to write the Bible. That is, He impressed upon their hearts the exact words to write – using their own personalities and writing styles as He did so. In the Old Testament these writers included Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Ezra, and the prophets. In the New Testament these included Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude. Subsequent translations do not have the same kind of inspiration as the original manuscripts. The divine authorship of the Bible is demonstrated in that even though there are so many different authors, who wrote over a period spanning many centuries, the message of the Bible is completely consistent throughout. There are no errors in the original manuscripts and no contradictions (any apparent contradictions can be explained).
What is the canon?
The word ‘kanon’ in Greek means ‘reed’ or ‘measurement’, in other words a yardstick. The canon of Scripture is the collection of books that are inspired by God. The canon was not determined by the church, but by God, who caused people to recognise through the Holy Spirit that the books that now make up our Bible were inspired. Three criteria are generally used:
(1) Prophetic authorship: proven to be written by a prophet, apostle, or someone associated with them.
(2) Witness of the Holy Spirit
(3) Acceptance by the early church.
The canon of Scripture as we currently have it – the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the new – is complete. There are no other writings on par with these in terms of being inspired by God.
The Apocrypha (‘hidden’) books appear in some Bibles. They were written between 300 BC – 70 AD; some are included in the Septuagint. They are not considered to be inspired as is the rest of the canon of Scripture.
Chuck Missler, ‘How we got our Bible’
Blue Letter Bible, FAQ: The Canon