A simple primer of the history of the Bible

The Bible is the record of the revelation of God. God does not reveal Himself exclusively through a book, He reveals Himself in many ways, however, mainly through people and in our supreme Savior and Lord. It is only in a secondary way that the Bible can be called a revelation of God. It is the record of His revelation which culminated in the life of Jesus Christ. The Bible is important because of Christ – not the other way around. Christ did not deliver a book; He came to live a life. The New Testament contains an account of that life and commentary on that life. The Old Testament is a record of the preparation for it. The contents of the Old Testament were not properly defined for sixty years after our Lord’s resurrection. The New Testament did not begin to be written until twenty years after the conclusion of His earthly life, and its contents were not settled until more than three centuries later. It is imperative to keep the order straight. First Christ – then the church – then the Bible.

The Bible needs to be read with discretion. The stunner of the Bible is its absolute honesty. The Bible refuses to color over the crudities and the deficiencies of the early phases of spiritual growth. Still, despite the crudeness of the Bible, there is a persistent golden thread of the search for God and the perpetual presence of eternal truths however incompletely realized. All this is leading to the fulfillment in the gospel of Christ. It would be inevitably boiled down to a series of innocuous expressions of religious thought which could never offend anyone. Such a rather inoffensive religion would be equally as useful as dry rain. As Christians we are already rooted in Jesus Christ. Our faith is not in a book, but in a Person. The Bible is a mosaic showing the painting of Christ set off by the Old Testament setting. There are three ways of approaching the Bible – literally, symbolically, and historically. In truth some parts of the Bible are to be read literally, while others are symbolic, and still others historic.

The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language. The beginning of such writings date from around the ninth century before Christ. At about the year B.C. 1000, some collections of them began to be assembled, such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord and the Book of Jasher. From similar sources came the poems like the Song of Moses and the Song of Deborah. The contents of the Old Testament were gradually assembled and it was by no means a steady process. It was down to the time of our Lord that it was still an unresolved question as to precisely what records should be included in the Canon (the authorized list of contents).

The word ‘Apocrypha,’ which means ‘hidden’ and many of the books that contained reglious meanings wrapped in symbolic expression were given this label. By the 5th century AD, any doubt concerning the contents of the Bible were resolved. In some versions of the Septuagint, the apocryphal books were included. Straight down to the Reformation, the Apocrypha was included in the official Christian Bible through all Christendom. It is in the Sixth Article of Religion of the Anglican Church where it is specified that the church reads them ‘for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.’ For fifteen hundred years the Christian world would cherish the Apocrypha in its Bible.

It is important to remember that our Lord wrote nothing. With the growing Church bringing in more and more Gentiles into the fold who knew only Greek and who were unaccustomed to the rabbinical teaching by word of mouth it became necessary to write down these teachings. Besides that, the Gentiles wanted it in written form. Hence the saying of our Lord, or the ‘Loga,’ came into being. St. Paul conceived the idea of writing letters (epistles) addressed, not to an individual person, rather to a congregation for public reading. It is significant to recall that these letters were not meant to present Christ to the masses who had no cognition of Him. They were written to reinforce the teaching the Apostle already had given, to answer questions and to deal with local problems of spiritual discipline and Christian behavior. St. Paul’s epistles always presupposed a knowledge of the Gospel on the part of his readers. Around the time A.D. 50, St. Paul sent his first epistle to the Thessalonians, which is the earliest Christian writing to come down to us. Notice that all these epistles had been composed before the beginning of the four Gospels was committed to writing. It is unlikely that the Church would have put its seal on the Gospel records which were in conflict with the prevailing teachings about Christ – eventually gathering both into the canon of Holy Scripture.

Leave a Reply