I was challenged recently when I quoted a bit of the Bible, and someone asked me when it was written, and when it was included in the Bible. I had absolutely no idea, so did a little research. If you know more than me, and can correct any of the following, then please do—otherwise, this is where the Bible came from:
The first 5 books of the Bible were thought to have been written by Moses, and are called The Pentateuch. They were probably established as ‘scripture’ by Ezra and Nehemiah, and they are what the Jews today still mean when they refer to the Torah. (These books were in existence way before Ezra and Nehemiah, but the early Jews pretty much ignored them until the prophets reminded them they were important.)
Then, about 200BC, the writings of the prophets were added. Later, the book of Psalms was also included as ‘scripture’.
Now we come to the time of Jesus’ birth (about 5BC —historians have discovered things since we set our calendar dates!) It was very important at this time for the Jews to have a clear understanding of what their holy books were. Jews were beginning to move away from Palestine, and they wanted to know exactly what defined them as a race, what their core beliefs were. So, in Palestine, when Jesus was alive and referred to ‘Scripture’ he would mean the 39 books we now have in our Old Testament. (Though the Jews combine some of the books, so I think they have 24–but they’re the same content.)
However, further afield, other Jews included other books as part of their scripture. The further away from Palestine they lived, the more books they seemed to include (some had as many as 15 extra books in their ‘scripture’). Books translated in Egypt make up the Septuagint, and this contains hidden books (known as Apocrypha which means ‘hidden’). Some of these books have since disappeared, and we don’t know what was in them.
So, what about the New Testament? Well, after Jesus left, the people who believed in him, began to separate from the Jews into a new religion. They still regarded the 39 books to be scripture, their holy books, and when in the New Testament letters they refer to ‘scripture’, this is what they meant. However, gradually, people began to write other things. People who had seen and listened to Jesus began to write accounts of his life and teaching. Later, other people interviewed them, and wrote their own accounts. The early church began to decide what it believed (such as whether non-Jews could be Christians) and the leaders of the early church wrote letters, teaching the church. Letters were called ‘epistles’. People within the church basically chose which of these letters and writings they regarded as sacred. So, there were the letters written by Paul, as well as letters written by Thomas…and the ‘Shepherd of Hermas’ …and the ‘Apocalpse of Peter’ …and the ‘Epistle of Barnabus’…and so on. Some of these writings contradicted what Jesus had taught, and some had a definite bias. Gradually, over several years, the early church began to accept some writing as being from God, and disregard other writing.
Then, in AD325 (so rather a long time later!) the church decided to state, once and for all, which books should be included as ‘scripture’. They formed a committee (because churches, it seems, have always liked committees) called the Council of Nicea. As far as I can tell from my research, they didn’t actually decide very much.
In 381, the church had another try. They formed the First Council of Constantinople and set out clear criteria for which books to accept, and which to reject. The criteria for inclusion was:
*The book was written by a first-hand witness of Jesus, or someone who had interviewed witnesses (such as Luke).
*The book was written within 100 years of Jesus (which meant, if it had been wrong, people alive at the time would have said so).
*The book should be consistent with the other books of the Bible.
This Council decided which books should be part of the Bible. They chose the books we have today, including the books of the Apocrypha.
In AD 400, St. Jerome assembled the books of the Bible, in Latin. It was called ‘The Vulgate’.
In the 16th century, a man called Martin Luther was studying the Bible, and trying to discern what it meant. He decided that actually, the Apocrypha should not be included as Scripture. The church formed another committee (the Council of Trent) who decided that Luther was wrong. This is why today, the Catholic Bible contains different books to the Protestant Bible.
Okay, that’s the end of the history lesson (interesting, huh?) So, what are the implications? This is getting too long, and I want to talk about it properly, so I will write another post tomorrow.
Bye for now. Take care.
Love, Anne x