Questions About the Bible: Did the Bible Fall Out of Heaven?

This series of posts have been tackling the frequently asked questions about the Bible. The first four posts in this series answered the question, “How can we know the Bible is the Word of God?” I used the acronym M-A-P-S as a guide to answering that question. The letters stand for Manuscript Evidence, Archeological Evidence, Prophecy, and Statistical Probability. There are still many other questions that are often asked about the Bible. One of those questions is how did we get the Bible as we know it today? This question is easily answered, but very few people actually know it.

The Bible as we know it today didn’t fall out of the sky or anything of the like. We received the Bible as we know it today through a process known as canonization. This is the process of recognizing those books that have the authority of God. Every now and then, you might hear someone refer to the “canon of Scripture.” This specifically refers to the 66 books contained in modern Bibles, but the word canon comes from a Greek word that means a reed, or rod as in a measuring rod. This is because there was a very precise rule or standard a book had to meet before it was considered Scripture. What was this standard? I’m glad you asked.

There was never a list of criteria written down where one could go and find a checklist and apply it to a book. However, there were some very clear criteria that were placed upon books of the Bible before they were accepted as Scripture. One of the first criteria was the authorship of the book. For Old Testament books, this was a question of whether or not it was written by a prophetic figure. New Testament books looked for apostolic authorship or apostolic support. The next major criterion was divine confirmation. Had God confirmed the author as being his messenger through mighty acts and deeds? This was essential because there have always been people who claim to have divine authority; these people are called false prophets in the Scriptures. Therefore, if someone had not been confirmed as a divinely appointed messenger, then there writings were rejected as Scripture. Doctrinal harmony was another criterion—did it line-up with the rest of Scriptural teaching. Many of the New Testament books began as circular letters that were read aloud in the churches and passed from church to church until every congregation had read the letter aloud. This formed the basis for another criterion for canonicity. Did churches already accept the book as possessing divine authority? All of these were important criteria when considering canonicity. However, spiritual profitability was one of the last considerations. All of those other criteria could be met in a book being considered, but it could still have lacked spiritual profitability. In other words, did the book serve to build up the church in the things of God? This is a criteria that is contained in the New Testament book 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “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.”

As you can see, there was serious consideration given to a book before it was considered canonical. This brings us to the next thing about the canon some people ask—are we still receiving Scripture today? The answer to this question is simply no. The canon of Scripture is closed. There are many reasons to come to this conclusion. The first is a theological reason. The Scriptures in the Old Testament were paving the way for Jesus Christ as they recorded God’s work among the nation of Israel, the nation from which Jesus would come. The New Testament is the written record of the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the church. There is no need for further revelation. This does not mean that God is no longer personally involved in humanity; or that people will not continue to gain new understanding of Scripture; or that because the apostles died that miracles have ceased. The other reason is historical. Because the apostles died, the divinely appointed messengers of Holy Scripture are not around to write Scripture. And historically speaking, there have not been any other messengers who have had the same divine confirmation like that of the apostles—raising the dead, speaking in tongues, healing the sick, etc. By the end of the fourth century A.D., the 66 books contained in modern translations of the Bible were the accepted canon of the Scripture.

There are still some other important things to know about the Bible as we have it today. I think many people don’t understand how the Bible is organized. It is not just a hodge-podge of books just randomly thrown together. There is a very specific organization to the 66 books of the Bible, and it is not chronological. The only chronological section of the Bible is from Genesis to 2 Kings. However, in the bookcase image above you can see that the Bible is first divided into two major sections. These are known as the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contains all of the Scriptures revealed to the nation of Israel. It contains information about creation, God’s establishment of the nation of Israel, the rebellion of Israel against God, the capture and defeat of the nation of Israel by Assyria and Babylon, and the like. In short, it records God’s work in preparing the world for the appearance of Jesus. The New Testament contains all of the Scriptures revealed to the followers of Jesus. It contains information on the birth, life, and death of Jesus; the founding of the Christian church; the spread of early Christianity; and the like. The New Testament, for the most part, is not organized chronologically.

Instead of being organized chronologically, the Bible is order by groups of books and length of those books. Genesis through Deuteronomy (known as the Law) covers creation to the exodus of Israel from Egypt and their wanderings in the desert. Joshua, Judges, and Ruth all cover the taking of the Promised Land and the establishment of the nation of Israel. First Samuel to 2 Chronicles covers the history of Israel under the rulership of kings, the splitting of the nation into Israel (north) and Judah (south), the capture of Israel by the Assyrians, and the capture of Judah by the Babylonians. Ezra Nehemiah and Esther all address Israel under Persian control, which includes the decree to allow them to return and rebuild Jerusalem. So the group of books from Joshua to Esther is known as History.

Following Esther comes a group of books known as Wisdom Literature or Poetry. This is comprised of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Then there is the grouping known as the Major Prophets—Isaiah to Daniel. These books are then ordered by length of chapters. Then comes the group known as the Minor Prophets. They are not called this because they are less important but because they are generally shorter than those books contained in the Major Prophets. This concludes the Old Testament.

The New Testament (NT) begins with the collection known as the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then Acts, the History book of the NT. Following Acts is the group known as the Pauline Epistles or Paul’s Letters—Romans to Philemon. These are all letters written by the Apostle Paul and they are ordered by length and not by date of composition. Following that is the General Epistles or General Letters—Hebrews to Jude. Once again, these are then further ordered by length. The last book of the Bible is Revelation and it is known as Apocalyptic or Prophecy. Now you have a basic understanding of how the Bible is ordered.

When the different books were written though, there were no chapter and verses in the text. These were additions to the texts at a much later date to assist in referencing passages of Scripture. Cardinal Hugo was the first to add chapter divisions. He did this in the Latin Bible in 1250 A.D. On the other hand, Robert Estienne added verses to the Greek New Testament in 1551 A.D. At this point, there was still no Bible with both chapters and verses. This would not occur until 1560 A.D. when both were placed in the Geneva Bible. Why is any of this important? Because many books of the Bible were intended to be read in a single setting and the chapter and verse divisions sometimes force a break in the flow of the text. Chapter and verse divisions are helpful, but they are not inspired. Likewise, the subheadings contained in many versions of the Bible are not inspired. These are things like “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” “Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome,” etc. These are added and are not inspired. The only inspired subheadings in the Bible are those contained in the Psalms.

The Bible didn’t miraculously appear one day. It was received over a very long period of time. I think this post has shown that there is a lot more to the Bible than meets the eye. So now we have seen that we can know that the Bible is the Word of God (MAPS) and how we got the Bible as we know it today, but what is so important about the Bible anyways? It is this question that will be the focus of my next post.
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