The first five books of the Old Testament are attributed to Moses, who would have gathered together records by Adam, Noah, Shem and Abraham which had been passed on by word of mouth, or possibly in some more permanent form.  He added the account of the history of Israel and the laws that God commanded him to write.

When the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon the preservation of God’s word was important for them.  Ezra and Nehemiah are credited with collecting the existing writings together.  Ezra read to the people from the Book of the Law of Moses (Nehemiah 8:1), and a non-inspired writing, 2 Maccabees 2:13, says, “Nehemiah collected the chronicles of the kings, the writings of prophets, the works of David, and royal letters about sacred writings, to found his library.” These writings would have been in the form of scrolls.

In the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Old Testament consisted of 22 books, as it does today.  These are exactly the same as our 39 books, but grouped differently, e.g. the 12 minor prophets are grouped together in one book.  It was a Jewish tradition that nothing should be added to or taken from this Old Testament.  This Old Testament was endorsed by Jesus as being the word of God and when there are references in the New Testament to the Scriptures this is what is meant.

To a large extent the Apostles determined what was recognized as New Testament Scripture and what was not, and there seems to be general agreement among the early churches.  Collections of the New Testament writings began to be made in the second century AD.  Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius to provide Bibles for use in churches, and in 367 AD Athanasius of Alexandria produced a list of the New Testament books as we know them.

Tagged with →  
Share →
  • Ike Gagne

    Constantine decided along with his bishops what books belong in the new testament. The ones he left out were the ones he felt people would not beleive. Is this true to your knowlege? Constatine was a Pagan, after he saw a Cross in the sky before a battle he became a christian.

    • Jonathan Morgan

      It’s not that simple. For a start, from what I’ve read it seems that Constantine was most interested in having unity and agreement in his empire, and in the church. He didn’t make the agreements or make the decisions, he merely told the leaders then that they needed to make them. So whether he was a true believer is not really relevant to the discussion. Also, as alluded to above, while final lists of books were produced by comparatively late figures (Athanasius of Alexander’s list given there is after Constantine), it was more a finalisation of a process of discussion and selection that had been going on for a long time. The people then simply did not have the power (or the desire) to add books which had been completely rejected by most people in the past and have it accepted. The Wikipedia article on the Biblical canon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon) discusses some of this process.

  • Ike Gagne

    Thank you Jon, But you did not answer me in other words you have know idea why some books were left out of the bible. You give the same answer, not inspired by God. Also I said New Testament only. But thank you anyway. I guess you didn’t know he was a pagan who changed to a christian.
    With all do respect , who are most people? the Pope.

  • Jonathan Morgan

    Hi Ike,

    I did know that Constantine was pagan changed to Christian (and in fact have heard speculation that he was not actually Christian, but merely encouraged it because it served his own ends as a way to unify the empire). However, my point was that if (as I have asserted) Constantine had nothing to do with the process of selecting which books to include, then whether he converted from pagan to Christian is irrelevant.

    As for who “most people” are, it is certainly a very vague statement. What we see is that there was a process of slowly gathering judgement and consensus as to what was scriptural and what wasn’t, probably starting from the time of the apostles. I do not believe that a counsel of bishops had either the ability or desire to go against this and choose a completely new set of books than those which had been used and approved for several hundred years beforehand.

    It is true that my answer is not inspired by God. I find it more than a little difficult to decide how you would make such a judgement without some scriptural record to start with (I could write a book which said it was inspired by God. That does not make it inspired by God. But without some idea of what books are inspired by God, how shall I determine if its claim is true or not? I could compare its teachings to see if they matched the rest of the Bible, but that is also relying on having some pre-existing agreed Bible).

    The testimony and discussions we have recorded about what was considered inspired and what isn’t are certainly not perfect, nor do they necessarily give detailed answers as to why a particular book was included or excluded. However, they are a lot closer to the time of Jesus and the writing of the scriptures than we are. If we completely ignore their judgement we would need to be fairly confident that we have a good reason to think our judgement better than theirs.

    Seeing as you are obviously unsatisfied by this answer, I think it would be good if you mentioned how you think we should determine which books are to be included and what an answer inspired by God would look like.

    Jon

  • Ike Gagne

    Thank you Jon: I understand your answer’s, you or I or anybody else do not have the anwser’s. Thank you for your time. Ike

  • Linus

    Thanks for the article, very interesting read.

  • Pingback: The importance of Reading the Scriptures « Christadelphians : Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven